One day after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn both California’s Proposition 8 case and a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, two Pennsylvania legislators announced the next step to ensure equality for LGBT Pennsylvanians.
On June 27, out state Rep. Brian Sims (182nd Dist.) and Rep. Steve McCarter (D-154th Dist.) said they would introduce a bill to allow Pennsylvania to join the now 13 states and Washington, D.C., that have marriage equality.
With the legislature now in recess, Sims and McCarter plan to introduced the bill in early fall.
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.) introduced a similar measure in March, which he first submitted in 2009. Former state Rep. Babette Josephs introduced the first House marriage-equality bill in 2011.
Sims said although he was happy with the defeat of DOMA and Prop. 8, plans had already been in the works for the measure before the Supreme Court rulings.
“Although I was super excited about the decision, what made me to decide to introduce it were my colleagues,” Sims said. “Rep. McCarter has wanted to introduce it for a long time and we both talked at length on introducing it but ultimately what moves legislators the most is other legislators and they came to us and said now was the time.”
McCarter said the Supreme Court decisions provided added momentum.
“Brian and I talked about it and we were looking for the right time and place to move this legislation along. Once the DOMA decision came down, it energized everybody and this was a means to keep the energy running to talk about this particular bill,” McCarter said. “We want to move forward with this legislation in Pennsylvania and keep the issue moving.”
Both lawmakers said they have seen a good deal of support, including cosponsorship pledges from a dozen lawmakers, including one Republican.
“The fact that we already have a dozen individuals ready to support us is a solid sign that legislators are on board,” Sims said.
Sims added he’s optimistic the legislation will gain more Republican support, especially after antigay legislator Rep. Daryl Metcalfe sought to silence Sims on the House floor when Sims tried to speak last Wednesday about the Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop. 8.
Metcalfe said Sims was acting in “open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.”
Sims said the bipartisan support he saw after that incident was encouraging.
“I do believe we will have Republican support and I don’t know if I would have answered that the same a week ago,” he said. “However, a number of Republicans are supportive of HB 300 and after the remarks made by Rep. Metcalfe, many were supportive of me and I was able to realize how many Republicans are supportive of the LGBT community.”
Although he plans to move forward with the marriage-equality legislation, Sims said the focus should be on HB 300, which has 89 cosponsors in the House.
“HB 300 is my primary focus and I want to make sure all LGBT Pennsylvanians are protected under a nondiscrimination law,” he said. “We can do a lot of work within the LGBT community, but HB 300 has always been a priority for me.”
Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin agreed.
“Pennsylvania legislators have to understand the full picture,” Martin said. “Some people want to get married and they should have that right, but everyone deserves to be protected.”
McCarter said he remains optimistic that the marriage bill can gain some traction, in light of the patchwork marriage laws currently in place.
“If you look at the background of marriage equality in Pennsylvania, it will be difficult but at the same time things are changing very quickly,” he said. “Discussions on who gets federal tax breaks and who doesn’t will cause problems that I think are going to force this issue.”
Both legislators encouraged the community to contact their lawmakers to talk about the bill.
“Up until I came to Harrisburg, I didn’t know how effective communication to legislators was,” Sims said. “It is very effective to hear from people in my districts on what issues they want me to support. It is a very strong tool that we have. Marriage equality is going to become the law of the land in Pennsylvania.”