Marriage-equality, civil-unions bills hit the PA legislature

Two Pennsylvania legislators paid a fitting tribute to Valentine’s Day with the announcement of measures that would recognize the relationships of same-sex couples.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.) and Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.) participated in a press conference Monday in Harrisburg’s Capitol Rotunda as part of LGBT Freedom Week to unveil their respective marriage-equality and civil-unions bills.

Both lawmakers proposed the bills for the first time in the last session but neither moved out of committee.

Leach’s marriage bill was again introduced with two cosponsors, Sens. Jim Ferlo (D-38th Dist.) and Larry Farnese (D-First Dist.).

Cohen’s measure saw increased support this year, with 41 cosponsors, as opposed to 32 last session. All cosponsors are Democrats.

Following last fall’s midterm elections, the GOP now controls the House. Cohen said that, no matter the political climate, the LGBT and ally community must present a strong front in favor of the measure.

“I think it’s tough under Democratic control, as well as Republican control,” he said. “It’s a process that’s slow and has to be member by member where people have to hear from their constituents that this is something they favor.”

Cohen said the dialogue that has occurred since his introduction of the bill last year contributed to the increase in the number of cosponsors.

“I think the more people become familiar with this and discuss it, the more supportive they become,” he said.

Cohen said the bill actually has far more support than it appears — he’s gotten commitments from several-dozen legislators who said they’d vote for it but were hesitant to be cosponsors.

Cohen said he’s going to press for public hearings on the measure this session and, if the bill were to get stymied in committee, he would consider introducing it as a floor amendment.

“I would like to have a floor vote,” he said. “I think we can get at least 70-80 votes and if there were an organized effort by supporters to talk to members of the legislature, I think we could get a majority. By reintroducing this now, two years in a row with more support in the second year — even though the Democrats got creamed in the elections — I think shows that this is a proposal that makes political sense for legislators in Pennsylvania. I think this is something that could pass the House and could pass the Senate and be signed into law if members are contacted and pressed on this.”

About 75 people turned out for the press conference to announce the bills Monday, and 50 activists took to the streets for a marriage rally in the evening.

Among the cosponsors are Democratic Philadelphia lawmakers Reps. Kevin Boyle (172nd Dist.), Vanessa Lowery Brown (190th Dist.), Michelle Brownlee (195th Dist.), Lawrence Curry (154th Dist.), Pam DeLissio (194th Dist.), Kenyatta Johnson (186th Dist.), Babette Josephs (182nd Dist.), Michael McGeehan (173rd Dist.), John Myers (201st Dist.), Mike O’Brien (175th Dist.), Cherelle Parker (200th Dist.), Tony Payton (179th Dist.), James Roebuck (188th Dist.), Curtis Thomas (181st Dist.), Jewell Williams (197th Dist.) and Rosita Youngblood (198th Dist.).

Philadelphia Democrats not currently cosponsoring the bill are Reps. Brendan Boyle (170th Dist.), John Sabatina (174th Dist.), Angel Cruz (181st Dist.), Bill Keller (184th Dist.), Ronald Waters (191st Dist.), Louise Bishop (192nd Dist.) and Rep.-elect Maria Donatucci (185th Dist.).

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].