New Castle News

December 19, 2013

Our Opinion: Courts will wind up resolving gay marriage issue

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Does anyone doubt the ultimate outcome of a federal court case regarding gay marriage in Pennsylvania?

We fully expect the courts to overturn state law on constitutional grounds. The commonwealth not only rejects the concept of gay marriage, but also any sort of arrangement giving legal status to homosexual unions.

That’s counter to the national trend, where increasingly, public opinion, legislatures and the courts are demonstrating an increased willingness to accept gay marriages.

And we imagine state officials can read the writing on the legal wall. The commonwealth’s lawyers are being accused of dragging their feet in the case, raising questions that pointlessly probe into the personal lives of the plaintiffs. That’s not the issue the case is addressing.

At the federal level, the courts have focused on the fact marriage traditionally conveys a variety of economic rights and privileges for couples. Essentially, laws that fail to recognize gay unions are increasingly viewed as discriminatory on these grounds.

While we expect the courts to rule unfavorably against Pennsylvania law, we’re not sure how it will all shake out. Just because a law is ruled unconstitutional, that doesn’t determine what follows it. Will the courts set their own standards? Will the Legislature be given the opportunity to establish new rules?

What we do know is that a court decision overturning Pennsylvania law will be greeted with complaints from Harrisburg. Pennsylvanians can expect to hear plenty of grousing about meddlesome judges arbitrarily interfering with legislative matters.

But the fact is that lawmakers in Harrisburg had ample opportunity to adjust the law. Other state legislatures acted, while Pennsylvania’s sat on the sidelines as if no action was necessary.

It was necessary. Effective leadership from Harrisburg could have crafted a new law that protected the rights of gay couples, whether it be through legalized marriage, civil unions or some other mechanism. Instead, state politicians looked the other way, ensuring the matter would be handled by the courts.

This is one of the ugly little secrets in politics. Legislatures often play this game, either ignoring the need for political reform or else passing a law they know won’t survive constitutional scrutiny. Then lawmakers turn around and complain when the courts deal with the mess.

We understand there is considerable opposition to gay marriage in Pennsylvania and around the country. But personal sentiments cannot be allowed to overshadow the need to protect basic rights. The Legislature still has an opportunity to develop new rules on its own. Time, however, is rapidly running out.