Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pa., N.J. reactions to Supreme Court same-sex marriage decisions

Groups on both sides say debate isn't over

Gay-rights supporters, from left, Briana Castaneda, Aimee Mendez and Gal Bar-El celebrate on Santa Monica Boulevard after the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in West Hollywood, Calif., Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
Gay-rights supporters, from left, Briana Castaneda, Aimee Mendez and Gal Bar-El celebrate on Santa Monica Boulevard after the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in West Hollywood, Calif., Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)
Video: Emotional Reaction to Supreme Court Decision on DOMA

The Supreme Court issued two rulings concerning same-sex marriage today, bringing resolutions to two high-profile cases. But in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, advocates on both sides say, the issue is far from settled.

The court ruled that the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying benefits to legally married gay couples is unconstitutional. The court declined to rule on the merits of Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage, instead holding that the backers of the 2008 initiative lacked standing to challenge lower court rulings striking down the ban.

Practically speaking, the decisions have little immediate impact in Pennsylvania and New Jersey because gay marriage isn't allowed in either state. Civil unions are available to gay couples in New Jersey. 

Groups on both sides say the decisions mean further action is needed in the two states.

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    "Now is the time for Pennsylvania to enact legislation that recognizes the marriages of same sex couples," Michael Morrill, executive director of the gay-rights advocacy group Keystone Progress, said in a statement. The organization is "thrilled," with the rulings, he said, and would "use the momentum of these decisions to redouble our efforts to win marriage equality."

    Garden State Equality, a group that promotes LGTB rights in New Jersey, posted a photo on its Facebook page that proclaimed "DOMA IS DEAD." But, the group noted, "New Jersey couples are still denied 1,138 federal protections of marriage." 

    The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey called on the state to allow gay couples to wed.

    "Our state can no longer hide behind the federal government to justify its own discrimination," Udi Ofer, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "New Jersey needs to make a choice: will we continue a separate and unequal civil union system, or will we seize this opportunity to extend equal rights to New Jersey’s same-sex couples?"

    The decisions also leave numerous questions -- and the possibility of other lawsuits -- for gay couples in the two states. For instance, how will legally married gay couples be treated if they move to a state that doesn't permit same-sex unions?

    "My expectation is that will be the subject of future litigation," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Equality Forum.

    States honor "literally almost every other possible contract" that citizens have entered in another state, Lazin said. 

    For advocates of traditional families, the rulings mean steps should be taken to amend state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage.

    Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, said she hopes the state legislature moves forward with a marriage amendment, which would then have to be approved by voters.

    "I think that should be the main message in Pennsylvania, the importance of getting that constitutional amendment," she said.

    Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policiy Council, said he was disappointed in the court's decisions but the rulings had a silver lining: "What this does, it gives great power to the states. That is how it should be."

    But, he said, that meant today's opinions resolved little for many states.

    "The debate goes on," he said.

    Some local elected officials also called for further action.

    Louis Greenwald, New Jersey General Assembly Majority Leader, called the decisions a "game changer" for bringing same-sex marriage to the state.

    "Now is the time to stand up for our fundamental constitutional values of fairness and equal justice under the law, and I urge Governor Christie and my colleagues to join me in making marriage equality the law of the land in New Jersey without delay," the Democrat wrote on Facebook.

    Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is seeking her party's nomination in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, praised the ruling and said in a statement that she would "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."


    Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or ebabay@philly.com. Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

    Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

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