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Marriage debate continues in Pennsylvania

by Matthew Ray
Contributor
Wednesday Jul 29, 2009
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State Sen. Daylin Leach [D-Montgomery/Delaware] has introduced a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples. At the same time, state Sen. John Eichelberger [R-Blair] has proposed a Constitutional ban on nuptials for same-sex couples based, in part, because he feels these unions could lead to polygamy. Divergent bills will almost certainly garner passionate opinions, but which side is winning.

Leach maintains that the current ban on marriage for same-sex couples denies inheritance, the ability to make medical decisions on their partner’s behalf--or even visit them in the hospital. He remains optimistic. And is prepared for a battle.

"In the short term, it’s going to be a tough fight, but in the long term, it’s inevitable," Leach said Friday. "It’s important that Pennsylvania be part of the discussion. The arguments against gay marriage are more complicated. We’re told we need to ’protect traditional marriage.’ But what’s happened to straight couples in states where gay couples can marry? Studies show straight-marriage rates remain the same. So do divorce rates, birth rates and domestic violence. There’s no change in the status, behavior or happiness of married heterosexual couples when a married gay couple moves in down the street."

Leach admits that while their may not be enough votes in the Senate to pass his resolution, he contends the battle is just as important as victory.

"There is no reasonable alternative to same-sex marriage," he said. Same-sex couples will always exist. Many are raising children. These are families that deserve to have someone fight for them, and to have representation in Harrisburg. Attitudes are changing, and everyday I truly believe we get closer to equality."

Still, Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University place Pennsylvania above average in its acceptance to both marriage for same-sex couples and other gay rights issues. Polls, statistical analysis and several other ranking factors rank the Commonwealth 17th out of 50 states in this support.

"The arguments against gay marriage are more complicated. We’re told we need to ’protect traditional marriage.’ But what’s happened to straight couples in states where gay couples can marry?"

Eichelberger would almost certainly challenge this finding. He maintains his proposed amendment would prevent polygamy and other forms of marriage.

"The same logic that’s being used for same-sex marriage is the argument that would be used for the next form of ’marriage," Eichelberger said.

Lawmakers have defeated two similar measures in recent years, but Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations in the country--and they largely oppose marriage for gays and lesbians. The Commonwealth also has a large number of Roman Catholics.

Regardless of the veracity and support of which politicians choose to favor or oppose marriage, Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com and others see a "tipping point."

"As gay rights become more accepted in a state, more gay people come out of the closet," he said. "And once straight people realize how many of their friends and relatives are gay, they’re more likely to be supportive of gay rights. Recall that the average American knows something like 700-people. So if five percent of your friends and acquaintances are gay, that’s 35 people you know - if they come out and let you know they’re gay. Even accounting for variation in social networks - some people know a hundred gay people, others may only know ten. There’s the real potential for increased awareness leading to increased acceptance."

Silver has built a regression model based on demographic and political trends that forecasts when a majority of the voting public in each of the 50 states might defeat or repeal a ban on marriage for gays and lesbians. He has concluded most states will have legalized nuptials for same-sex couples by 2016. He predicted Pennsylvania lawmakers will extend marriage to same-sex couples in 2012; versus 2024 in Mississippi.

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