Same-sex marriage legislation introduced

As the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act was introduced in the state House of Representatives Thursday, local congressmen had varying views on same-sex marriage.

The bill would redefine marriage as a “civil contract between two people who enter into matrimony,” replacing the existing language, “a civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife.”

Additionally, same-sex marriages performed legally outside the state would be recognized in Pennsylvania.

Under this bill, religious institutions do not have to perform same-sex marriages.

If passed, the bill, introduced by state Reps. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, and Steve McCarter, D-Glenside, would go into effect within 60 days.

While local congressmen didn’t comment on the bill itself as many didn’t have a chance to review it at that point, several predicted it wouldn’t even reach a vote in the House.

“I predict the bill never gets to the (House) floor,” said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy. State Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro, concurred.

Everett couldn’t say how he would vote until he read the bill, but said the law doesn’t need changing.

“I think my constituency and most of Pennsylvania thinks the law is fine as it is. I think the law is fine,” Everett said. “They (same-sex couples) can live together, and can do absolutely everything except marry.”

His reasoning was that Pennsylvania is a very traditional state.

“Pennsylvania is one of the last states that moves forward on many things, take the distribution of alcohol for example. I think the current law is an accurate reflection of attitudes of a majority of people in Pennsylvania,” Everett said.

However, state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, doesn’t think the government should be involved in defining marriage.

“I don’t think the commonwealth, the state government should be involved in dictating what is and is not marriage. I think that’s not something we should be doing,” Yaw said.

Yaw took a wider lens than Everett and said a large segment in the nation recognizes same-sex marriage.

For Yaw, the issue of same-sex marriage is two-fold: the right to marry, and the right to benefits.

Does the bill address “recognition of partners, or marriage as an avenue for benefits? I don’t know how these bills address that,” Yaw said.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, encouraged his constituents to contact his office of their opinions on the matter. He emphasized discrimination is a core issue.

“We need to make sure we don’t discriminate against people,” Mirabito said, noting the only recognition currently given to same-sex couples is second-parent adoption where the partner can adopt the child as a second parent.

He said the current law permits much discrimination against same-sex couples.

“The laws that protect people on race and religion don’t include sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against (gay) people,” he said.

As it stands, landlords don’t have to rent to gay people, he said. No matter what law would be passed, it would not apply to one’s personal home in which she or he rents out an apartment, he said.

In a hospital setting, a same-sex partner is not permitted to visit his or her partner in the ICU or emergency room without proper documentation, he said.

A 15-percent inheritance tax applies to unmarried couples, regardless of sexual orientation, Mirabito said – but if same-sex couples cannot marry, it penalizes them even if that is not their choice to make.

“A married couple that stays together for one year has more rights than a gay couple that’s been together for 25, 30 years,” Mirabito said.

Laws that eliminate discrimination help build civility in society, he said, citing the violence and lynching that abounded far more before anti-discrimination laws regarding African Americans.

“These laws help us learn to live and play in the sandbox and to treat each other with respect, even if we don’t agree with each other’s positions,” Mirabito said. “And certainly, as we’re grappling with issues of violence in our community, it can’t hurt to find ways to build bridges between people, even if we don’t agree with what they think or say.”