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A bill to repeal Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban will be considered in the state House

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A bill to repeal Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban will be considered in the state House

Jun 12, 2024 | 6:24 pm ET
By Peter Hall
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A bill to repeal Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban will be considered in the state House
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(Getty Images)

A decade after a federal court struck down Pennsylvania’s law against same-sex marriage, a bill to repeal the invalid statute was voted out of the state House Judiciary Committee for the first time ever on Wednesday.

While that decision was affirmed and became the law of the land a year later when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed bans on same-sex marriage, House Bill 2269’s prime sponsor said repealing Pennsylvania’s law defining marriage as a contract between one man and one woman is an important symbolic step.

“The fact that these statutes are outdated proves the point and the necessity of us doing this, and it also sends an important message about us embracing William Penn’s vision of tolerance and acceptance no matter who you are,” state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) said during the Judiciary Committee meeting.

The legislation passed with a 17-8 vote, including “yes” votes from three Republicans, Timothy Bonner of Mercer County, Toren Ecker of Adams County, and Kate Klunk of York County. The bill will now go to the House floor for consideration. 

Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that the state’s interest in promoting legal marriage is rooted in protecting the welfare of children born out of a union between a man and a woman.

“The law does not assert that same-sex relationships are either good or bad. Only that they are different in a substantial way and that changing the law on marriage alters the fundamental understanding and calls into question the convention by which the state recognizes marriage altogether,” Schemel said.

Other members of the committee said that changing Pennsylvania law to explicitly state that marriage is a contract between two people is necessary to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

Rep. Joe Hohenstein (D-Philadelphia), who said he is the parent of a transgender person, noted that the justices of the Supreme Court have shown themselves willing to engage in judicial activism. In June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned its own 49-year-old precedent establishing a national right to abortion, clearing the way for states to enact bans on the procedure.

“If that were to occur, I would want Pennsylvania to remain a bulwark of marriage equality. And for that reason, this law needs to go off the books,” Hohenstein said.

Preston Heldibridle, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress said LGBTQ+ Pennsylvania residents should be free to marry without worrying about the possibility of their marriages being declared invalid. 

“Today’s vote affirms that updating the language in our state statute to put aside past exclusion has bipartisan backing, and embraces the reality that marriage equality is broadly supported today,” Heldibridle said. “Marriage equality is simply the right public policy for Pennsylvania — what more needs to be said?”

The language defining marriage in Section 1704 of Pennsylvania’s Domestic Relations Act was declared invalid following the U.S. Supreme Court’s  decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled in favor of a widow, 11 same-sex couples, and the children of one of the couples, who wanted the state to recognize their marriages from other states. 

The Pennsylvania House last year passed the Fairness Act, which would extend protections under the state’s anti-discrimination law to LGBTQ+ people. The bill, first introduced more than 20 years earlier, passed the House with a bipartisan 102-98 vote with support from two GOP lawmakers, Reps. Aaron Kaufer and Alec Ryncavage, both of Luzerne County. Democratic Rep. Frank Burns of Cambria County voted in opposition.

The Fairness Act has not been considered in the Senate.