Karen Heller: While N.J. stays in today, Pa. travels back in time

Doris Day and Rock Hudson in "Pillow Talk" in the 1950s, when Hudson was in the closet and gay marriage wasn't discussed.
Doris Day and Rock Hudson in "Pillow Talk" in the 1950s, when Hudson was in the closet and gay marriage wasn't discussed.
Posted: February 15, 2012

New Jersey is for lovers! And marriage! Well, sort of. At least for now.

The State Senate gave gay couples a Valentine's Day gift, an opportunity for Wildwood weddings and Mullica Hill honeymoons, by approving gay marriage Monday. On Thursday, the General Assembly is poised to do the same.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania celebrates the "Year of the Bible."

Among the book's teachings: Blessed are the gas drillers, for they shall inherit the earth.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are neighbors, sharing a river, a region, and for a long time the fiscal play toy that is the Delaware River Port Authority.

But most days New Jersey seems rooted firmly in the present, operating more or less in 2012, while Harrisburg potentates seem game on attempting to legislate residents back to 1953.

New Jersey resembles Julia Roberts. Pennsylvania is more like Doris Day, at least in Harrisburg. Gay marriage isn't even on the agenda in the place where progress dare not speak its name.

Last month, the Pennsylvania House unanimously passed a "noncontroversial resolution" citing "the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures."

Now, some legislators, including Philadelphia Democrats Mark Cohen and Babette Josephs, want a vote do-over, arguing that they didn't understand the mandate, though it states, in the first sentence, "A resolution declaring 2012 as the 'Year of the Bible' in Pennsylvania."

Let us pause, bow our heads in silence, and worship the beauty of this absurdity.

So, 2012 may also be the Year of Irony, the separation of church and state turning out to be an on-demand concept, suiting lawmakers to join or rent asunder whenever the mood strikes.

Abortion on demand seems less likely to be available. Legislators are poised to vote soon on the "Women's Right-to-Know Act." A more accurate name might be the Commonwealth's Attempt to Delay Act, another potential obstacle in obtaining a legal procedure.

Harrisburg continues to love the guns, as if it's the Wild West out in Dauphin County. Last year, Gov. Corbett signed the Castle Doctrine, which protects law-abiding citizens from prosecution in using force against an attacker not only in their homes but also "any place where they have a legal right to be." Now along comes HB 1523, which would permit lawsuits against municipalities, like Philadelphia, that try passing sane gun-control measures.

New Jersey legalized medical marijuana. Pennsylvania's still trying to get out of the hooch business, our jail-like liquor stores that make good on Gov. Gifford Pinchot's 1933 pledge "to discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible."

As Jersey residents celebrate the possibility of two men or women being able to wed, Gov. Christie - who prefers that the civil right be placed on a ballot and decided by voters - promises to veto the bill. Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney believes he can secure by January 2014 the two-thirds vote necessary to overturn the veto.

"I'm telling you, we can override, we will override," he said. "We'll get there. This is only the beginning."

The majority of New Jersey voters supports gay marriage, according to a recent poll. Sweeney implored Republican colleagues to vote for tolerance, rather than what's politically expedient - which is precisely as he did when he withheld his vote in 2010 and the proposal was rejected.

"Yes, if you vote against this measure, you might keep your elected position and keep the support of those who are important to your ability to maintain office and push through legislation. But at what cost?" he asked. "Isn't it more important that we, as elected representatives, did something that truly changed people's lives for the better? I am not talking about tax policy, or paved roads, or ribbon cuttings. I am talking about real, true change in the way we treat each other as human beings."

These are words of inclusion, enlightenment, progress. I can't imagine hearing them uttered in Harrisburg. Especially, in the Year of the Bible, and "our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures."


Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com, or @kheller on Twitter.

Read her past columns at www.philly.com/KarenHeller.

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