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Gay Marriage in PA - Smart Talk TV

Written by Nell McCormack Abom | Sep 19, 2013 2:11 PM

The judge has spoken. Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini rules that county court officials cannot issue same-sex marriage licensesin Pennsylvania. His order does not address the ultimate question of whether Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

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That matter awaits a federal court showdown. We’ll bring you the latest in the debate over gay marriage in Pennsylvania on Smart Talk, Thursday night at 8 on witf-TV. Weigh in with your opinion: 1-800-729-7532, email, tweet, post a comment below or to Facebook.

Judge Pellegrini sided with the state Department of Health and ruled that Montgomery County Register of Wills/Clerk of Orphans’ Court Bruce Hanes had overstepped his legal authority by issuing 174 marriage licenses to gay couples since July. “In this case, a clerk of courts has not been given the discretion to decide … whether the statute he or she is charged to enforce is a good idea or bad one, constitutional or not. Only courts have the power to make that decision," Pellegrini wrote. “Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all commonwealth public officials."

Hanes began recognizing same-sex marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He claims that the Supreme Court’s decision renders Pennsylvania’s DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, unconstitutional. James Schultz, Republican Governor Tom Corbett’s general counsel, disagrees and supports Judge Pellegrini’s decision. "We respect the interests and dignity of all the parties involved in this case, but we are a government of laws and it is important that all office holders across the state enforce those laws uniformly," Schultz said after the ruling. Hanes is filing an appeal.

The ACLU and several dozen same-sex couples have filed a separate federal lawsuit over Pennsylvania’s DOMA. Part of that act reads, “A marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this Commonwealth.” Gay-rights activists realize that rewriting the law in the conservative, Republican-controlled General Assembly would be infinitely more difficult than potentially finding success through a federal civil-rights lawsuit. Gay-marriage opponents say this lawsuit contravenes the will of Pennsylvania voters as expressed through their legislators who passed the DOMA in 1996.

Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, saying the law is unconstitutional, refused to argue on behalf of the Commonwealth and instead turned it over to the Governor’s Office of General Counsel. In turn, the General Counsel has hired former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice William Lamb to defend the statute barring same-sex marriage.

We'll talk to Hanes Thursday night. Our guests include Andy Hoover, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, who supports Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act, Randall Wenger, chief counsel with the Independence Law Center, who argues in favor of PA's DOMA, and Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, one of the state's leading organizations fighting for equal opportunities for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered Pennsylvanians. Martin and his husband, Dwayne, were married in California in 2008 and reside in Pennsylvania.

We’ll explore the history of marital law and the ramifications of Pennsylvania’s DOMA for gay and lesbian couples on Smart Talk. Be sure to join the conversation!

(This article had been updated to reflect new members of the panel.)


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  • Douglas img 2013-09-19 10:41

    I think it is time that Pennsylvania repeals the Defense of Marriage Act for several reasons.

    First of all, I no longer believe that homosexual behavior inside a same-sex marriage is necessarily a sin. Conservative religious perspectives claim that it is prohibited in the Bible. This is where I diverge because the validity of the Bible can be called into question. For example, in history, the New Testament has been changed more times than there are words in it. The Old Testament has similar history. In one example, people frequently equate the sins of Sodom and Gomorra to homosexuality, but this wasn’t originally the case. It wasn’t until it was equated with homosexuality in the Catholic Church many years later that it was accepted as such.

    Conservative religious perspectives claim a homosexual should remain celibate or heterosexually marry.
    I will discuss celibacy first. Remaining celibate all of one’s life is a tall order that most heterosexuals would not endure. Nine out of ten gays simply leave the conservative church once they come out to others, and most importantly, to themselves, that they have a homosexual orientation. Second is the issue of heterosexual marriage. These conservative groups claim that a homosexually oriented individual can be treated through religious counseling and “Reparation Therapy.” There have been no credible studies on the effectiveness of “Reparation Therapy.” Exodus International, an umbrella organization for religious “Reparation Therapy” counselors recently announced that it is shutting down and apologized to the LGBT community. California and New Jersey have banned “Reparation Therapy” for minors because it tends to reinforce negative feelings about one’s homosexual feelings, and when the therapy doesn’t rid one of those feelings, it ends up causing depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. Becoming heterosexually married can be really bad advice for the homosexually oriented individual. The homosexually oriented spouse often times ends up feeling unhappy in the relationship and may resort to homosexual behavior on the side, the spouses ends up feeling unfilled with needs unmet, and the marriages so frequently end in tragic divorce.

    A second issue is one of reproduction. Same-sex couples have medical means available to them to have children. They are often condemned for this and told it isn’t “natural.” This is a double standard because heterosexual couples are not condemned and ostracized for using these same techniques when they can’t have children through usual sexual relations.

    Third is a question of whether children raised by same-sex couples are “damaged” by it. This has also been proven false. Same-sex marriage has been legal in parts of Europe for many years now. This has given researchers ample opportunity to study children raised by same-sex couples. These studies have shown that these children are no different from children raised by opposite-sex couples. They are not “damaged” in any way by growing up with same-sex parents.

    Overall, I think the time has come to move on and accepting same-sex marriage is simply an act of becoming more civilized.

    • Nell McCormack Abom img 2013-09-19 11:03

      Thanks, Douglas, for your comment. We will use a portion of your response on tonight's show. Hope you can tune in and, of course, feel free to call in live at 8 to 1-800-729-7532. Thanks for joining the conversation!

      • rsk img 2013-09-19 21:25

        Interesting. You mention "using" a portion of a comment that is based solely in belief and has significant errors. Good luck with that. I'm sorry I missed your "lack of" presentation which can only be based in (misguided) belief and conjecture, wholly or primarily without truth.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-09-20 08:12

    Don emails:

    We are debating about equality..does this equality apply to the unborn too? Can't have one without the other.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-09-20 08:13

    Stanley emails:

    Men who are selfish can't relate to women, so they choose another man. They don't want to take the time and energy to understand women. They should NOT be allowed to associate with children. I had a boy whose "parents" were lesbians and he was one of the most emotionally and socially disturbed children I have ever had in my 37 years of teaching KG. He wouldn't play with any other children or socialize with them. He even colored the Valentine cupid we made with red and pink hearts BLACK. It's a shame that selfish people abuse children this way. He was such a cute little boy.

  • Douglas img 2013-09-20 12:00

    It was interesting to hear the conversation for and against same-sex marriage. One of the arguments against same-sex marriage was the argument that a child needs a father in the home. I grew up without a father in the home due to divorce. I was able to experience male bonding with teachers, scout leaders, church members and leaders, etc. The biggest thing I encountered back in the day was discrimination because I was the product of a broken home. Now that there are so many children growing up in broken homes, the discrimination seems to focus more on children raised by same-sex parents.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics made the following statement this past spring on their Web site: “A great deal of scientific research documents there is no cause-and-effect relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and children’s well-being... In fact, many studies attest to the normal development of children of same-gender couples when the child is wanted, the parents have a commitment to shared parenting, and the parents have strong social and economic support. Critical factors that affect the normal development and mental health of children are parental stress, economic and social stability, community resources, discrimination, and children’s exposure to toxic stressors at home or in their communities -- not the sexual orientation of their parents.”

    Despite “Stanley’s” comments about a single child having problems growing up, preliminary results of the world’s largest study into children raised by same-sex parents indicated that children of gay and lesbian parents were no different from their peers raised by straight parents in terms of physical and mental health, and in their interactions with others and their parents. Not only that, the study discovered that children raised by same-sex parents scored significantly higher in terms of family cohesion and general health than did kids raised by opposite-sex parents. Stanly is not a psychologist and did not provide counseling to the child to find out what the cause of the child’s difficulties was. Perhaps they were a result of discrimination within the family. The study also revealed that children of gay and lesbian parents are more likely to encounter discrimination based on their parents' sexual orientation.

  • Florence Tarbox img 2013-09-22 18:48

    I believe that in Pennsylvania, there is protection against discrimination based on gender. Why can't this also be used to support gay marriage? For example, a man can marry a woman. The only reason that I can't marry a woman in Pennsylvania is because I'm a woman. This is straightforward sex discrimination.