State ban on gay marriage unaffected

By Marc Levy

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG – The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage Wednesday said nothing that would affect the validity of Pennsylvania’s ban, as potential Democratic challengers to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett lined up in support of legalizing gay marriage in the state.

Despite the Supreme Court decision, gay marriage bans still stand in Pennsylvania and roughly three dozen other states. Pennsylvania’s constitution, however, does not ban gay marriage, as some other states’ constitutions do.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law that denied federal benefits to gays and lesbians who are legally married.

The ruling effectively allows gays and lesbians who are legally married and live in states that allow same-sex marriage to receive the same federal benefits that are available to married heterosexual couples.

Every other state in the northeastern United States allows same-sex marriage except New Jersey, and it allows civil unions. A 1996 Pennsylvania state law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and state law doesn’t allow civil unions.

Corbett has said he supports Pennsylvania’s ban and a state constitutional ban on gay marriage.

On Wednesday, the three Democrats who are lining up to challenge Corbett in 2014 hailed the Supreme Court decision, raising the possibility that gay marriage could emerge as a campaign issue.

“Pennsylvania must pass marriage equality,” candidate Tom Wolf, a former Rendell administration official who owns a building materials supplier in York, said in a statement. “It’s time we had equal rights for all under the law.”

John Hanger, another former Rendell administration official who also sat on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said, “It’s time for Pennsylvania to pass its own marriage equality legislation.”

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz said through her office that the federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, is a fundamental violation of the constitutional right of equal protection and that people should have the legal right to marry the person they love.

“I will continue to work to ensure that all Americans receive equal rights and protection under the law and are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” she said.

In a statement, Corbett did not praise or criticize the Supreme Court’s ruling. Instead, Corbett pointed out that it leaves the regulation and governance of marriage to states and that he supports the existing Pennsylvania law on marriage.

Bills sponsored by Democratic lawmakers to legalize gay marriage in Pennsylvania have sat untouched in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature for years.