For the first time ever, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association this week voted to endorse marriage equality — and called on the state to take action on pending legislation to grant same-sex couples equal marriage rights in Pennsylvania.

On Jan. 27, the approximately three-dozen board members voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that calls for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Keystone State. With the resolution’s approval, support for marriage equality is now the official position of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

According to association director of communications and marketing Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway, although subsets of the organization have backed marriage-equality measures in the past, this is the first time the issue was brought to the full board of governors.

“There have been a variety of different resolutions over the years but some of the resolutions in the past may have been from a section of the association,” Avakian-Hardaway said. “This is the first time it was at this level before the entire board, who represent our 13,000 members. It is a big deal for us.”

The resolution was developed by the association’s LGBT Rights Committee.

Committee co-chair Mike Viola said drafters contacted each section or committee chair throughout the association, about half of whom endorsed the effort; while some didn’t respond, no one rejected the resolution, Viola noted. The resolution was then submitted to the cabinet of the board of governors, which then passed it on to the full board.

Viola said the collective voice of the association can be powerful.

“I think it can have significant impact because it tells the world that the official position of the Philadelphia Bar Association is that there should be marriage equality,” he said. “It is not an individual attorney saying this, but collectively. It is a civil right for all.”

The resolution contends that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the state constitution, which guarantees Pennsylvanians’ “right to pursue their own happiness,” the “enjoyment of any civil right” and equality regardless of one’s sex, as well as violating the federal constitution.

The association, the oldest lawyers’ organization in the country, adopted a resolution in 1996 opposing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage — Pennsylvania has a statute banning marriage equality, but not a constitutional amendment — and the national American Bar Association adopted a 2010 resolution urging state, territorial and tribal governments to eliminate legal barriers to civil marriage between same-sex couples.

Monday’s resolution endorses “marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and goes on to state its support for Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 1686, the pending marriage-equality bills, as well as any “similar legislation that would afford same-sex couples the freedom to be married within the Commonwealth.”

From our media partner PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.