A gay-rights 'backwater,' Pa. won't have same-sex unions soon

Posted: June 27, 2011

New York became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage Friday night. And what of Pennsylvania? We don't even recognize civil unions, let alone same-sex marriages.

In fact, a leading gay-rights advocate likened the state to a "backwater" when it comes to gay equality.

Although a poll in April by Public Policy Polling found that 63 percent of Pennsylvania voters supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, a spokesmen for a top legislative leader in Harrisburg said that the issue is not a high priority.

"There's no such legislation scheduled for a vote," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

Miskin said that other issues demanded lawmakers' attention before debating the merits, much less voting on, legalizing same-sex marriage.

"With everything else on the plate, I can't see this making it to the front of the stack," Miskin said, adding that the economy, jobs, the state budget and education were all issues with more traction at the moment.

As things stand now, current Pennsylvania law defines marriage as "between a man and a woman," period. End of story.

Asked if Turzai might support a change in the law that would provide for same-sex equality, Miskin said: "I don't think he's given it much thought."

Eric Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware/Chester, did not return a call or reply to an email for comment on the issue.

"Pennsylvania is really a backwater when it comes to gay equality," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, a nonprofit group that backs gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights through education. "We don't even have hate-crime protection or workplace nondiscrimination protection, let alone civil unions or same-sex marriages."

In recent years, a number of state lawmakers in Pennsylvania have tried to move in the opposite direction from New York - attempting time and time again to get a ban on same-sex marriage written into the state's Constitution.

In 2006, the state House of Representatives passed an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The bill was approved with a vote of 136-61 but failed to advance in the Senate.

Last year, a proposed constitutional amendment in the state Senate was killed when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to table the bill.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat and proponent of same-sex marriage, has said that efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage or civil unions amounts to treating same-sex couples as "second-class citizens."

A majority of states - 27, in fact - have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

Delaware and New Jersey don't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but both permit civil unions. Philadelphia offers domestic-partnership registries: If one member of the relationship is a city worker, then the couple will be eligible to share benefits.

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