New Castle News


May 22, 2014

Our Opinion: Harrisburg dodges responsibility and must deal with consequences

NEW CASTLE — You’re standing on the railroad tracks, and there’s a freight train fast approaching.

To what degree should the rest of us feel sorry for you if you fail to take prudent, appropriate action and avoid the onslaught?

That’s our view of any Harrisburg politicians who are now bemoaning a federal judge’s decision that has overturned state law banning gay marriage. This ruling should have surprised no one paying attention to what’s happening in the nation today.

But you will hear folks, particularly in the state Republican Party, complaining about activist judges and the usurpation of power. However, there’s a big difference between having power taken from you and giving it up willingly.

That’s basically what happened with Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP-controlled Legislature. Recent Supreme Court decisions made it clear Pennsylvania’s blanket law rejecting gay marriage was untenable. Yet rather than reworking the measure, these same officials chose to simply stand there as that train roared toward them.

This is why the judge in the case refused to stay the ruling pending any appeal. Under existing circumstances, Pennsylvania law is so blatantly flawed there is absolutely no expectation it will withstand further scrutiny by the courts.

There is at least one bit of good news in this regard. Corbett announced yesterday that because of the scope of the decision, his office will not appeal the ruling.

So Pennsylvanians in general, and gay couples in particular, will be spared a lengthy court fight full of uncertainty over whether new marriages would stick.

The fundamental problem with Pennsylvania’s law is that it failed to take into account the legitimate interests of couples who want to share legal benefits such as joint insurance, Social Security, etc. Existing court decisions do not specifically require states to allow gay marriage, but they do require some legal recognition of assorted federal benefits for gay couples.

Pennsylvania officials opted to ignore this reality. So they deserve absolutely no sympathy for the marriage mess they have created.

The responsible thing now would be for lawmakers and the governor to craft a credible measure that guarantees gay couples their fundamental rights. Traditionally, marriage is a function of state government and states have the responsibility to set assorted rules and standards. The courts have not rejected that concept.

But Harrisburg needs to step up and act, rather than complain. Otherwise, we envision there will be additional confusion and controversy over state marriage law.

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