July 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Pennsylvania advocates differ on marriage strategy
Brian Sims, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Some Pennsylvania advocates have begun to differ on whether they should push for marriage rights for same-sex couples without first securing statewide anti-LGBT discrimination protections.

Sue Kerr, editor of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that the recent announcement by state Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Stephen McCarter (D-Montgomery County) that they plan to introduce a same-sex marriage bill in Harrisburg seems “a little bit like putting the cart before the horse.”

A Susquehanna Polling and Research survey in May found 72 percent of Pennsylvanians back two bills — House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 — in the state legislature that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the state. A Franklin and Marshall College poll released during the same month found 54 percent of respondents support same-sex marriage.

“House Bill 300 helps everyone — every single person in our community,” Kerr said. “It’s not defined by our relationships. It’s defined by who we are as citizens, residents of the state.”

Pennsylvania is among the states without an LGBT-inclusive statewide non-discrimination law.

Neighboring New York, Maryland and Delaware are among the 11 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples are currently able to legally marry. A federal judge in Ohio on Monday ordered the state to recognize the marriage of a gay couple that tied the knot at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on July 11.

The American Civil Liberties Union on July 9 filed a lawsuit against the Keystone State’s statutory same-sex marriage ban.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced two days later she would not defend the law in court.

Josh Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, on Tuesday announced the suburban Philadelphia county would issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple.

The women, whom the Times Herald newspaper identified as Loreen M. Bloodgood and Alicia A. Terrizzi of Pottstown, wed earlier on Wednesday. They are the first same-sex couple in Pennsylvania to receive a marriage license.

McCarter noted to the Blade that HB 300 has received roughly 20 additional co-sponsors since he and Sims announced the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional that they plan to introduce a same-sex marriage bill. He said he hopes HB 300 will have 102 co-sponsors, which constitutes a majority, in the House of Representatives once it reconvenes on Sept. 23.

“We know there is no state so far that has passed marriage equality without having non-discrimination passed,” McCarter said. “Momentum is growing.”

Advocates across the state acknowledged the same-sex marriage bill is unlikely to pass, at least in the short term, because Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“There’s a limited amount of resources [that] generally are better deployed in terms of those areas where the result can realistically be achieved,” said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Equality Forum.

Kathy Padilla, a transgender rights advocate in Philadelphia, noted 32 municipalities in Pennsylvania have passed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. Philadelphia adopted the state’s first gay-inclusive measure in the late 1970s, while the city of Harrisburg enacted Pennsylvania’s first trans-inclusive anti-discrimination resolution in 1983.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in May signed a measure that many activists have described as one of the country’s most expansive anti-LGBT discrimination laws.

“As we don’t have a statewide non-discrimination bill, pursuing judicial relief here doesn’t close off legislative opportunities or split communities in the same way as other states at all,” Padilla told the Blade, referring to the ACLU’s same-sex marriage lawsuit. “It leaves us all working for these same goals at the same time in different venues — together.”

Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade that HB 300 remains a “top priority” for his organization.

He said a Pennsylvania hotel could still legally deny a same-sex couple a room on their wedding night. Martin noted a gay or lesbian Pennsylvanian could still be fired from their job if he or she places a picture of their husband or wife on their desk.

The commonwealth also lacks statewide protections for LGBT Pennsylvanians in housing.

“We have to look honestly at the complete picture,” Martin said. “The heat and conversation around marriage will really allow us to take a good look at how we treat LGBT Pennsylvanians.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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