Following Wednesday’s rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court impacting gay marriage, the ban on those marriages remains in effect in Pennsylvania.
But, gay marriage supporters say the rulings will help to shift the legal and political battles in their direction.
“The legal landscape, if you will, for marriage equality, for non-discrimination has now fundamentally changed,” said state Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd), Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state lawmaker.
As a civil rights attorney dealing with LGBT issues, he pointed out the rulings leave several legal questions unanswered. He predicted those questions likely will lead the Supreme Court to take up larger questions of the constitutionality of gay marriage.
“Somebody can go to New York and legally get married to their partner and get those thousand federal rights. But, the moment they now cross back into Pennsylvania, are they losing federal rights because of state law? And the answer is most likely yes,” said Sims.
Randall Wenger, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, is involved in a federal case challenging the state’s Defense Against Marriage Act.
“We’re pleased this wasn’t the Roe v. Wade of the marriage issue,” said Wenger about Wednesday’s rulings. “We can continue to fight on the state level to preserve one man/one woman marriage here in the state of Pennsylvania.”
A federal judge in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District put a case on hold last year dealing with two women who were married in Canada.
The case is Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits. It centers on Jennifer Tobits and her wife, Sarah Ellyn Farley.
Farley was a partner at Cozen O’Connor and died in 2009. Since then, Tobits and Farley’s family have disagreed who should receive Farley’s death benefits.
In an order last fall, the judge in the case said he put it on hold until other similar cases around the country could be resolved. It’s unclear if Wednesday’s rulings will reignite this case, but Wenger believes it will start to gain traction again, either through a decision from the judge or a request for more briefs from attorneys.
“No matter what happens, because our thoughts are so deeply held on these issues, no court is ultimately going to decide. And, it’s going to be an ongoing societal discussion,” said Wenger.
Gov. Corbett (R) Wednesday reiterated his support for Pennsylvania’s existing marriage laws.
Rep. Sims says it’s more likely the courts will weigh in on the gay marriage issue before lawmakers in Harrisburg do.
In the meantime, he says he’s working to pass non-discrimination, anti-bullying and other laws affecting gay people’s civil rights. He believes Wednesday’s rulings may provide momentum to pass some of those laws.