New Castle News

August 14, 2013

Our Opinion: Commonwealth drops ball by ignoring gay marriage issue

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania has a marriage mess on its hands.

The issue, of course, is gay marriage and its legal status in the commonwealth.

Under state law, gay marriage is illegal. But the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging this status.

That action is tied to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal law refusing to recognize gay marriage. That legislation didn’t prevent gay marriages in states that wanted them, but it allowed other states not to accept these unions and denied gay couples federal benefits and other resources married folks typically enjoy.

Essentially, the court was saying that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to deny couples standard marital benefits based on gender. So the question becomes, do the same prohibitions now exist for states.

If they do, Pennsylvania’s law won’t survive.

With the filing of the ACLU suit, quite a bit followed. For instance, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the state’s law, on the grounds it was blatantly unconstitutional. That left it to the Corbett administration to handle the legal challenge.

It also produced a political tussle between the attorney general and the governor, with definite undertones of a potential clash between Corbett and Kane in the next gubernatorial contest.

Meanwhile, in a few locations around the commonwealth, officials have announced they will marry gay couples, regardless of state law. This has prompted the Corbett administration to pursue legal action against these officials. So the culture wars continue as the legal costs for taxpayers rise.

There are a few reasoned points worth making here. First, while Kane may be correct in her assessment of state law, we think she needs to do her duty as attorney general and defend it. Of course, if she did so and would lose, she would be open to criticism from gay marriage foes claiming she didn’t do her best.

And we think it is inappropriate for any municipal official simply to sneer at state law, regardless of what they think of it. That sets a dangerous precedent on all manner of issues.

That said, the muddle on gay marriage in Pennsylvania is a consequence of inactivity by the Legislature and Corbett. They should have seen this situation coming a mile away and dealt with it through the legislative process. That didn’t mean they had to legalize gay marriage, but they had an obligation to allow unions of gay couples in a manner that protected the state from this sort of controversy, cost and embarrassment.

As we have said before, states need to have mechanisms — be they gay marriage, civil unions or something similar — that ensures equal protection under the law. Otherwise, you get what Pennsylvania now has.