How a Woody’s meetup led to Pennsylvania’s marriage equality legislation

State Rep. Steve McCarter

State Rep. Steve McCarter

When it was announced Rep. Brian Sims would be introducing a marriage equality bill in the Pennsylvania House, few Philadelphians probably recognized the name alongside Sims’ on the co-sponsorship memo: Rep. Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery).

McCarter, first elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2012 after former Rep. Larry Curry retired, had been a high school social studies teacher, U.S. Army Captain and adjunct professor of education at UPenn before representing the people of Jenkintown, Cheltenham, Springfield and a small portion of northern Philadelphia, also known as Pennsylvania’s 154th district.

He’d been involved in politics, too, and had spoken with Brian Sims about marriage equality before either one of them had been officially elected. It wasn’t until the perfect storm of the Defense of Marriage Act decision and state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s anti-gay comments on the House floor that both decided it was time to do something about it.

“This was something Steve wanted to do since the moment he joined the legislature,” notes Sims. “Quite frankly, it was before that.”

How long before? The two met for the first time at an event Sims held at Woody’s Bar after their respective primary victories in 2012. While there, says Sims, McCarter introduced Sims to his wife, then the two began talking about a marriage equality bill.

“I had not known Brian before then,” says McCarter. “And, once we had a chance to talk a little bit, I told him this was an issue that was very important to me, to move this in Pennsylvania, eventually, as well. At that point, Brian had mentioned it was also very important to him, to see this legislation go.”

Most in the Equality Caucus, as well as Equality PA, which was instrumental in creating the legislative caucus, wanted to focus on the nondiscrimination bills first. Those bills, House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300, would likely have an easier time of achieving a vote.

McCarter says the issue became more pressing when they learned of the Defense of Marriage Act decision.

Adds Sims: “When, after the dust-up with Metcalfe, after the DOMA decisions, we all sat down as the LGBT equality caucus that morning to talk about how are we going to respond to Metcalfe, how we were going to respond as a party. It became very clear that my colleagues, all of my colleagues, really wanted us to pursue a marriage equality bill and it was really, it was that simple…I’ve been working on this kind of stuff my entire legal career and Steve, as long as he’s been a legislator, has wanted to introduce this. So we seemed like the obvious pair.”

The potential bill’s reportage was met with huge Internet fanfare all over the country, though has yet to be introduced as full-scale legislation.

“For me, looking at the issue from a civil rights standpoint, it’s the right thing to do, ten times over, but I think for some of my colleagues in Harrisburg, it’s becoming the right thing to do because of the economics, also,” McCarter says.

McCarter became one of several legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, to join the LGBT Equality caucus this year. Many of the newcomers are freshmen. He credits the introduction of the marriage equality co-sponsorship memo as driving up the numbers for the nondiscrimination bills (that, and a backlash to Metcalfe’s comments on the floor).

“We’re looking at September, when we go back [as a timeframe for the legislation],” he adds. “We’re going to be talking to a number of people over the summer to get more co-sponsors—we have 21 already—and moving forward at that particular point. We’ll put it in, try to generate a bit more enthusiasm as we move it along.”

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