Pa. House, Senate bills would update state’s outdated definition of marriage

The Supreme Court. (Photo: Scott Drake)

by John L. Micek

LGBTQ individuals nationwide won a historic victory in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriages the law of the land with the high court’s landmark ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges.

Yet, all these years later, language limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman still clings to the state’s domestic relations statute. But lawmakers in the state House and Senate are looking to change that by updating the statute, so that state law matches legal reality for thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

“The promise of America has to include every single one of us – and because of generations of activists and LGBTQ+ leaders, marriage equality is the law of the land,” Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, and one of three openly LGBTQ members of the chamber, said in a statement.

“However, outdated and discriminatory language still exists in commonwealth statute, and that must change. This bill will ensure that our laws reflect who we are and further clarify that in Pennsylvania, who you are and who you love is seen and valued,” Kenyatta said in the statement.

Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester, who’s sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, observed in a statement that “nearly 6 years ago, our nation enshrined the right to marry and all of its privileges and responsibilities for same-sex couples.

“It is past time that we update our state laws to follow suit and reflect the modern, legal, and widely-accepted definition and view of marriage,” she said.

LGBTQ activists in the state, and their legislative allies in the General Assembly have long noted that, while same-sex couples can marry in Pennsylvania, they have yet to win the same anti-discrimination protections as their fellow commonwealth residents.

In the state House, Democratic Reps. Dan Frankel and Jessica Benham, of Allegheny County, joined by Kenyatta, and Brian Sims, also of Philadelphia, are seeking co-sponsors for the newest version of the bill popularly known as the “Fairness Act,” which would ban discrimination against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians in matters of housing, education, and access to public accommodations. Like KenyattaSims and Benham also are out members of the chamber. Sims is gay. Benham is bisexual.

“Pennsylvania’s lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law is an embarrassment to this commonwealth and a deterrent for workers and businesses who could help grow our economy,” the three lawmakers wrote in a March 1 memo seeking support for their proposal.

John L. Micek is the editor-in-chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.