Currently, Pennsylvania is the only Northeastern state that has not legalized gay marriage or civil unions. After Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, Pennsylvania enacted a statute defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The state also barred the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Pennsylvania’s Same-Sex Marriage Movement

While same-sex marriage legislation has been introduced on several occasions, the efforts have not yet been successful. In May 2009, Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach introduced a same-sex bill in the Senate and State Representative Babette Joseph introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. The bills did not make it out of committee. 

In 2011, State Representative Mark B. Cohen introduced a bill that would allow gay couples to enter into civil unions. That bill died in committee. He re-introduced the bill during the 2013 session. That bill is currently pending. 

In March 2013, Senator Leach again introduced a bill to allow same-sex marriage. In June 2013, Representatives Brian Sims and Steve McCarter introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the House of Representatives, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that portions of DOMA were unconstitutional.

Legal Battles over Same-Sex Marriage

Pennsylvania for Marriage, an organization that believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman, is trying to block same-sex marriage in the state. They want to add a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

On July 8, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a challenge to overturn Pennsylvania’s law banning same-sex marriage. They also want to prohibit state officials from stopping gay couples from getting married. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit include a widow, 10 couples, one of the couple’s teenage daughters, and four couples who were married in other states. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has said he will defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

D. Bruce Hanes, Montgomery County’s register of wills court, began giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples in July 2013, even though same-sex marriage is not legal in the state. He argues that the law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. So far, Hanes has given out more than 150 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. While Gov. Corbett has maintained that it is illegal to perform same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania, a local mayor and other officiants have been performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. The legality of these marriages is uncertain. 

Gov. Corbett’s administration filed a lawsuit against Hanes a week after he began issuing the marriage licenses. A hearing was scheduled for September 4, 2013.

Pennsylvania Marriage Laws: What the State Constitution says…

It is hereby declared to be the strong and longstanding public policy of this Commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman. A marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this Commonwealth.

Pa. Stat. 23 Pa. C.S.A. ‘ 1704

Source: Pennsylvania State Constitution