By: Daylin Leach
I have recently introduced SB 935, a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
I do so now for several reasons. First, because many other states are moving to consider this issue, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa and Washington D.C. which have recently passed legislation. New York and New Jersey soon will. Further, a bill banning same-sex marriage was recently introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate and it is important to provide the legislature with a timely pro-civil-rights, pro-family alternative. But mostly, each day in which gay Pennsylvanians are denied their fundamental human rights is a profound injustice.
The case for same-sex or gay marriage is simple. The state and federal government confer hundreds of benefits upon married couples that are unavailable to single people. This is done to facilitate and encourage marriage, which benefits our entire society. We should be doing with gay couples what we do with straight couples; encouraging them to enter permanent, monogamous, stable and legally recognized unions.
The arguments against gay marriage are much more complicated.
First, we are told that we need to “protect traditional marriage”. But from what? What bad thing has happened to straight couples in states where gay couples can marry? Studies show straight-marriage rates remain the same in those states. So do divorce rates, birth rates, and rates of domestic violence. There is no change whatsoever in the status, behavior or happiness of married heterosexual couples when a married gay couple moves in down the street.
We hear that some organizations that disapprove of gay marriage might act out if such marriages are allowed. For example, in Massachusetts a Catholic adoption agency didn’t want to adopt to gay couples and closed down. This argument is akin to the “Heckler’s Veto” concept. In First Amendment law some have tried to ban certain speech by saying it would upset the listener who would then “Heckle” or otherwise cause a disturbance. For example, if civil-rights workers were allowed to march in the South, that would upset local racists and they might throw rocks. The Courts have consistently rejected the argument that threats based on disapproval were a justification to ban speech. Similarly, there is not a justification to stop people from marrying the person they love either.
We also hear the frankly strange argument that if we legalize gay marriage we will somehow have no choice but to legalize polygamy, incest and inter-species marriage. Not so. We draw reasonable lines all the time in all areas of the law. You can drive 65, but not 95. You can keep a gun, but not a truck bomb. Similarly, you can marry one partner, but not an Aardvark. Any law involves line drawing. It seems reasonable that the line should be drawn where it allows each person the opportunity to have a life partner.
The fact is that there is no reasonable alternative to recognized same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples exist and always will. Many of them are raising children. Many opponents of gay marriage preach that children should not be raised out of wedlock, but the one sure way to raise the number of children being raised out of wedlock is to deny their parents the chance to marry. They also urge young people to delay sexual relationships until marriage. But if gay people can’t marry, what would they tell a gay teen about when it is appropriate for them to have a sexual relationship?
Gay couples are denied many of the basic rights and services straight couples take for granted. This includes everything from Social Security Survivor Benefits to mandatory leave to care for a sick partner. Further, they and their children are forced to live under a legal framework that treats their families as somehow not legitimate. There are literally thousands of such unjust burdens placed upon people who want nothing more than to start a family. Simple decency demands an end to this.
I am under no illusions that this bill will become law in the short term. However, I also have no doubt that 15 years from now same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states, and people will be as ashamed that we ever banned it as they are now that we ever banned inter-racial marriage. My hope is that by introducing this bill now, we will start the discussion we need to have and bring the day of equality a little closer.