Not so fast on claiming progress for Pa.

Allyson Schwartz. With her exit, there will be no Pa. women in Congress.
Allyson Schwartz. With her exit, there will be no Pa. women in Congress.
Posted: May 25, 2014

Pennsylvania has finally joined the rest of the Northeast.

Sort of. Last week U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III overturned the state's 1996 ban on same-sex marriage, moving the commonwealth a seismic step into the 21st century, making it the last state in the region to recognize marriage equality.

But that same Tuesday, with primary losses of several female candidates, including two for governor, the commonwealth regressed to the Stoned Age of Mad Men. The nation's sixth-most populous state, more than half female, has never elected a female governor or senator. Now, it is on track to have its congressional delegation revert to an all-boys club.

By comparison, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and South Carolina - with a female governor of color - appear enlightened.

First, progress. In his elegant decision overturning the gay-marriage ban, Jones wrote: "We are better people than these laws represent, and it is time to discard them onto the ash heap of history."

Reform occurred again in the courts, not the ossified legislature, this time by a George W. Bush appointee whose nomination was championed by conservative values crusader Rick Santorum.

The former senator declared last year of gay marriage, "For the Republican Party to even contemplate going along with this is the destruction of our republic."

Consider this the dawn of destruction. Gov. Corbett, a Roman Catholic and a social conservative, declined to appeal the court's decision.

"We went from Alabama to marriage equality in 48 hours," said Ted Martin of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania. He praised Corbett for letting the ruling stand: "I do think he was pretty thoughtful about this decision. I think he grew a bit over this."

Yet the commonwealth remains the lone state in the Northeast without antidiscrimination laws protecting employment, housing, and public accommodation rights of the LGBT community. "You can get married on Saturday, and fired on Monday for putting your wedding picture up in certain workplaces," said Martin, though 34 municipalities, including Philadelphia and many suburban townships, have passed local ordinances. "We need more weeks like this."

Surely, though, women political candidates do not. They lost in highly contested primaries in a couple of congressional races. In her gubernatorial primary defeat, Rep. Allyson Schwartz blamed sexism. In an e-mail to supporters, she noted "the political pundits, the media, the Harrisburg establishment couldn't believe a woman could serve as governor - and denied it even mattered." Even to women voters?

Look, it matters. Only five women currently serve as governors. People are thrilled that women constitute a paltry fifth of the U.S. Senate. In the percentage of women in the national legislature, the United States ranks 95th in the world - 95th! - behind such bastions of democracy as Afghanistan and Uganda.

But Schwartz cannot blame sexism alone for her resounding defeat. (Former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty, with far less money and name recognition, came in a distant fourth.) The congresswoman blamed the "old boys' club," a false note, given that Schwartz has been a part of the establishment for decades.

Schwartz, not Tom Wolf, was the name candidate. Pennsylvanians are familiar with her record. She was the presumed front-runner, yet finished 40 points behind Wolf. She failed to win a single county, including Montgomery and Philadelphia in her district.

Schwartz knows well that Pennsylvania is a tough place for female candidates, and Harrisburg remains the town progress forgot, 38th in the nation in the percentage of women legislators, again, the worst in the Northeast. I have phoned her more times than I care to count on the issue of Pennsylvania women in higher elected office because, for the longest time, she's been it.

But not for much longer. Schwartz went all in. Come January, the lone woman in the state's 18-member House delegation will be out of elected office for the first time in almost a quarter century.

"We know for a fact that it matters to have a woman in every level of leadership in this country," a hoarse and emotional Schwartz said Tuesday night. Indeed. But that doesn't look likely to happen here for some time.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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