Editorial: DOMA hinders Pennsylvania’s progress

By Editorial Staff

The United States is headed in the direction of marriage equality, and yesterday, Pennsylvania activists took the first steps toward making their state the next to join in line.

Just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, a Philadelphia law firm, filed a suit in a Harrisburg federal court, challenging the state’s own marriage defining act — also called the Defense of Marriage Act — which was similarly passed in 1996. 

Representatives for the plaintiffs, including 10 same-sex couples and a widow, say that the rationale behind the law no longer holds up in the face of overwhelming evidence. Legislators who voted on the 1996 bill believed that gay marriage could harm the moral fiber of the state, damage the family structure and hurt the average taxpayer since the same-sex couples would receive the same benefits as a heterosexual couple if they were considered married under law. 

The plaintiffs claim that none of these assertions are based in legal grounds, and, therefore, are no longer relevant. 

This is, of course, true. 

To increase its invalidity, beyond the legality of the law, there is one glaring truth: U.S. citizens nationwide are becoming increasingly more accepting of gay marriage

After the Supreme Court announced its decision, 56 percent of people surveyed in a Washington Post-ABC Poll expressed their support of gay marriage. Eleven states, as well as Washington, D.C., have completely legalized marriage, with many others offering civil unions.

Now it’s time for Pennsylvania to join them. 

By continuing its ban on gay marriage, Pennsylvania is further exacerbating a problem that’s quickly affecting the country as a whole: A lack of uniformity regarding the definition of marriage. 

The personal strains that Pennsylvania’s DOMA places on individual relationships are great, and when considering uniformity on a national efficiency scale, our state continues to act as another weak link. 

Take, for instance, Deb and Sue Whitewood, two of the plaintiffs named in the suit. After forming a civil union in Vermont in 2001, the two returned to Pennsylvania to find their relationship, which was legal in Vermont, invalidated under state law. 

This is problematic in several ways. 

For one, if one member of the couple was to pass away, the other wouldn’t be legally permitted to accept her will. Another pressing issue is health benefits. As the law currently stands, one member of the couple cannot receive health benefits offered by the other’s employer and vice versa. This is particularly troublesome for couples who have children, adopted or biological, from a previous heterosexual marriage.

This lack of unity creates a constant issue when interpreting and applying the laws, which, in turn, bogs down our justice system with mundane arguments that have already been struck down by the highest judicial body.

It is time for Pennsylvania to join the consensus of the nation. The Supreme Court has ruled and now it’s up to the Federal District Court to do the same. The court must once again strike down DOMA, to uphold the rights of American people and the efficiency of our nation.

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