Here’s What State Rep. Brian Sims Says About PA’s Path to Marriage Equality
Former (and perhaps, incoming) presidential candidate Hillary Clinton endorsed gay marriage earlier today—a gigantic win for the future of social rights.
“I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law, embedded in a broader effort to advance equality and opportunity for LGBT Americans and all Americans,” Clinton said in the video posted by the Human Rights Campaign.
She joins a number of politicians and world leaders who’ve come out in favor over the last decade—including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who came around after signing the Defense of Marriage Act during his presidency. Several states now have gay rights, gay marriage and same-sex union laws.
But not Pennsylvania. As it happens, we’ve been two steps behind our northeastern (and mid-west, and western) neighbors on this issue. And it’s sort of tough to figure out why that is.
During a panel on LGBT rights in Pennsylvania during the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit earlier this month, freshman state Rep. Brian Sims took the issue on directly, speaking in blunt terms about how gay marriage could work out in Pennsylvania, since the Legislature doesn’t seem too keen on bringing it up any time soon.
Sims was joined by Equality PA executive director Ted Martin and SEIU organizer AJ Marin. The three took on several equality issues in Pennsylvania, from legislative, activist and labor standpoints. Regarding marriage equality, Sims, the wonkiest of the bunch, took on a question regarding when, exactly, gay marriage may become law in Pennsylvania.
Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act may get struck down later this year, Sims said, (there’s a huge Center for American Progress-endorsed campaign based around this happening, and the Supreme Court is expected to take on the issue as early as next week). Such an action, he said, would lead to a domino effect that could eventually legalize gay marriage in Pennsylvania.
“What [Section 3 of DOMA getting struck down] will create in the immediate aftermath is three classes of people in each state: Heterosexual people who can marry and divorce; gay people who can’t marry or divorce; and gay people who can be married but probably don’t have divorce mechanisms in place.”
In laymen’s terms, that means if you’re from Pennsylvania, you’ll be able to leave, go to New York, get married and come back. Then you will be a gay Pennsylvanian who is married—but cannot get a Pennsylvania divorce.
“There will be a race to the Supreme Courts once that happens,” he continued. “The state Supreme Courts, potentially 50 of them, are going to have to determine not necessarily how they view marriage equality, but how they view the mechanisms that are put in place to handle people who have been legally wed.”
Most divorce laws in most states don’t address marriage equality. And state legislatures vehemently against gay marriage will likely note that while they can’t prop Section 3 of DOMA back up, they also do not have to put in place laws that allow their gay married citizens to divorce. Sims noted the issue will likely then go from the state Supreme Courts to the federal appeals courts, half of which, based on their political swing, may rule gay marriage legal. And when the appeals courts split, it’ll go to the federal Supreme Court.
But how long’s that going to take? About seven to nine years, Sims said. And before it can come to fruition, Pennsylvania has other equality issues the legislature will need to deal with—mostly anti-discrimination, bullying and hate crimes legislation, all of which are currently sitting in the Legislature.
“And recognize that within the next year,” added Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin, “there are going to be other states that come on board with marriage equality. I think sooner or later, I guess in much less elegant terms than Brian just put it, I think legislators are going to have to face the mess.”
This post has been updated.
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