“I hate even the word ‘family.’ It’s vague.”
-- Fictional adman Pete Campbell in last Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men.”
Pete Campbell would clearly never land the ad account for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, one of the few groups still out there caterwauling this week about the landmark ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III striking down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Rummaging through what Jones eloquently called “the ash heap of history” and franticly trying to Super-Glue the shattered shards of a broken idea, Archbishop Charles Chaput called the decision “a mistake with long-term, negative consequences." And the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference pushed its totally non-vague definition of the word “family”: A man and a woman -- “the fundamental building block of society” -- and nothing else.
The words were all but drowned out by the giddy laughter of gay and lesbian couples who practically ran toward City Hall yesterday within minutes of the ruling, waving their marriage licenses like a winning Powerball ticket. The word “family” may indeed be vague, but to paraphrase another esteemed justice, Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it. And the notion that anything could ever take place inside Philadelphia City Hall that could make people ecstatically happy is the best argument for gay marriage I’ve ever heard.
The Roman Catholic Church in the 21st Century under Pope Francis is such a forceful advocate against war and poverty that it’s hard to understand the continued expense of so much energy against what the world needs now -- love, sweet love -- and against committed relationships.
But there was one thing amid the gleam of engagement rings and flapping of rainbow flags that was worrisome: That too many people would conclude that this was Pennsylvania’s V-Gay Day, that the fight against discrimination here is now concluded.
But in a sense, Judge Jones’ ruling put the wedding cart before the horse. While Pennsylvania – thanks to Gov. Corbett’s announcement this afternoon that he will not appeal the ruling – is now the last state in the Northeast to sanction same-sex marriage, we’re still light years behind our neighboring states in offering some of the most basic civil rights to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens.
Today, in 2014, in Pennsylvania that future gay spouse with his freshly inked marriage license can still be fired from his job, turned down for a mortgage, denied a motel room, or other basic rights – all because of his sexual orientation. But even in an era of rapidly growing public support for LGBT rights, the bills that would ban workplace and housing discrimination – House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 – remain stalled in Harrisburg.
The tide supposedly turned in December when Corbett revealed to front-page headlines that he’s ready to sign the bills. But there’s been little evidence that the governor is using his influence – to the extent that he still has some – with his GOP colleagues in the legislature to persuade them to pass them. That makes Corbett’s words ring hollow.
Philadelphia state Sen. Larry Farnese, the Democratic sponsor of the Senate version, told me today that despite growing support it’s questionable whether the bill can move though the House this year – and the main roadblock is the chairman of its State Government Committee, and its Tea-Party aligned chair, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of western Pa. It was Metcalfe who famously called a pro-gay-marriage speech on the House floor “an open rebellion against God’s law,” and it is Metcalfe holding up the anti-bias bill. “It’s disgusting,” Farnese said.
Disgusting, indeed. Imagine the Deep South in the fall of 1965, and blacks are finally lining up to exercise their hard-fought right to vote, but the water fountains in the polling place are still segregated. Such an unjust imbalance is what gays face in Pennsylvania today.
Jones’ ruling enshrined what many of us have come to believe, that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right in our society. But passing these way-overdue anti-discrimination laws would say something even more powerful. It would say that LGBT equality is the will of the people of our vast and usually dysfunctional family called Pennsylvania.