Marriage equality in Pennsylvania could be receiving reinforced protections in the coming months, thanks to a bipartisan bill introduced the week of April 10. State Representatives Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Phila.), Danilo Burgos (D-Phila.), Jessica Benham (D-Allegheny) and Jamie Flick (R-Lycoming/Union) are proposing legislation to protect the rights of marriage equality.

The goal of this bill is to update the state’s marriage law statutes to be in line with the 2015 Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges and insulate the bill against further high court cases that could erode LGBTQ+ rights in the commonwealth. With the protections granted by Obergefell openly at risk of being revoked, ensuring airtight protections for Pennsylvania couples is of utmost importance.

Why update the law if LGBTQ+ marriage is already legal in Pennsylvania?

While the 2015 federal decision made it clear that marriage, and all its privileges and responsibilities, should be available to all, Conservative Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have repeatedly made clear that they would like to see the decision overturned. If they are successful in their mission, the Respect for Marriage Act, thanks to compromises made in an effort to pass the act, will not require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This is especially concerning, as Pennsylvania is among a cohort of states that retain outdated, unconstitutional and unnecessary sections of law that, while currently unenforced, prohibit marriage equality. The bill, which is spearheaded by the Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, would update the state’s current laws by repealing statutes that only recognize marriage as being between a man and woman.

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Protecting LGBTQ+ as a united front

Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Phila.), who serves as co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Caucus, noted the importance of the statute of the commonwealth’s marriage law to reflect true equality, regardless of gender and orientation. “As the first openly LGBTQ+ person to get married during their tenure in the General Assembly, I know how special it is, to not only commit to your chosen spouse, but to have that recognized and protected under law,” Kenyatta said in session this week. “Pennsylvania is better when it’s fairer and when we treat all families with respect. The Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is legal, but our statues must change to reflect that. Now is the time to fix this in a bipartisan way, as we did last term with removing homosexuality from the Crimes Code.”

Jessica Benham (D-Phila.), the other co-chair of the caucus, added the need for a focus on marriage equality for disabled folks, who often risk loss of benefits if they marry, forcing a near-impossible decision between the legal protection of partnership or vital healthcare and financial support. “It makes sense to update the language of our laws to reflect the modern definition of marriage and we should do so out of respect for same-sex couples in the commonwealth,” said Benham. “There is still work to do, primarily at the federal level, to ensure that individuals with disabilities also have the right to marry.”

In a hope-inspiring turn of events, the proposed bill has bipartisan support, with Jamie Flick (R-Lycoming/Union) as a prime sponsor. “I believe Pennsylvanians should have the freedom to marry whom they choose,” Flick said. “Over 70 percent of Americans agree that same-sex couples should have the same rights and privileges to marry as [straight] couples. As such, I fully support updating our current state laws to ensure marriage equality for all Pennsylvanians.”

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Featured image by Ben Krut