Reactions from state and local leaders were mixed Wednesday as news of the Supreme Court’s decisions on two same-sex marriage cases made national headlines.
The court released its opinions Wednesday on United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and deferring Proposition 8 — the 2008 California ban on same sex marriage — back to lower court, respectively.
“I believe the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA was a critical step in strengthening equal rights for all,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in a statement released Wednesday. “As a U.S. Senator representing Pennsylvania, I have read many letters written to me by LGBT Pennsylvanians and their families who want nothing more than equal rights under the law. These letters included deeply personal statements from people across our Commonwealth and had a substantial impact on my decision to support marriage equality.”
“There are many ways to protect the basic human rights of all, but today’s redefining of marriage serves no one’s rights, least of all those of children,” said Joseph Aponick, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. “Everyone should be treated equally, but it is not discrimination to treat differently things that are different.”
The court invalidated a provision of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that has prevented married same-sex couples from receiving 1,138 federal benefits — which cover a range of tax, health and retirement issues, among others — available to married heterosexual couples.
A second ruling let stand a lower court’s decision that California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
“As a result of today’s Supreme Court decisions, hundreds of thousands of Americans will have the validity and dignity of their relationships recognized,” said Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims of Philadelphia. Sims is an LGBT civil rights attorney and the first member of the Pennsylvania legislature to be elected as an openly gay candidate.
“More importantly,” he said, “the Supreme Court has spelled out in no uncertain terms that the LGBT community is deserving of respect under the law, and that when legislatures use state law to punish and discriminate against LGBT people, those laws will be found unconstitutional.”
State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-199, said that while the Supreme Court decisions affect the country on a federal level, the states still have the power to decide how same-sex marriage will be handled.
“The Supreme Court struck down DOMA as it applied at the U.S. government level, but the ruling left intact the rights of individual states to define marriage as they and their citizens best see fit, upholding a core principal of federalism and states’ rights,” Bloom said. “It is very important to note that the court did not establish a new constitutional right to same-sex marriage, nor did it impose same-sex marriage upon the majority of states, including Pennsylvania, that have chosen to recognize only traditional marriage.”
Outside of Pennsylvania, the northeastern United States all allow same-sex marriage or, in the case of New Jersey, civil unions. Pennsylvania does not allow civil unions or same-sex marriage, and a spokesman for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says the governor would support a state constitutional ban on gay marriage. Such legislation would add Pennsylvania to the list of about three dozen other states with bans on same-sex marriage.
“In the political arena, I will continue to be an advocate for the beneficial and positive institution of traditional marriage, which I believe reflects the heartfelt values of the vast majority of the citizens I represent,” Bloom said.
Other representatives, like Sims, are optimistic that same-sex marriage will be possible in the state.
“For me, as a Pennsylvanian, these rulings bring a mixed sense of excitement and frustration,” Sims said. “While we currently have the largest collection of pro-LGBT legislators in Pennsylvania history, the commonwealth is still the only state in the Northeast that doesn’t protect its LGBT citizens with even the most basic civil rights laws. Luckily, because of the hard work of the LGBT Equality Caucus, organizations like Equality Pennsylvania, and support from rulings such as those today, there is no question that we will ultimately see this civil rights battle won.”
“While this is a day of celebration for legally married same-sex couples, 37 states — including Pennsylvania — still treat gay and lesbian citizens and their children as unequal and second-class,” said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania. “But the work to win the freedom to marry here in the commonwealth will continue.”
Martin said people across the commonwealth “are ready for a conversation about marriage.”
John Hanger, a Democrat running for governor, says it’s time for Pennsylvania to allow same-sex couples to legally marry. Another Democrat running for governor, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, says every American should have the legal right to marry who they love.
The diocese, however, stated its belief that marriage serves a more important purpose than love.
“We see marriage as a communal good that through the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman can bring life into the world,” Aponick said. “Not one that is simply for the emotional benefit of two people. Marriage belongs not to the state nor to the church, but is a natural institution which both should recognize. In today’s decisions the state is overreaching in redefining it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.