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Pennsylvania House Passes Bill to Repeal Same-Sex Marriage Ban in Bipartisan Vote

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives has passed a bill repealing the state’s same-sex marriage ban with a decisive bipartisan vote on Tuesday. Proponents of the bill stressed the necessity of this change to safeguard marriage equality, especially if federal case law were ever to be overturned.

The bill sailed through the House with a 133-to-68 vote. Every Democratic member, bar one, joined forces with 32 Republicans to push the bill forward. The next challenge lies in the GOP-controlled state Senate.

This landmark legislation aims to erase the archaic clause in Pennsylvania law that dictates marriage must be “between one man and one woman” and dismisses same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Though this statute has been rendered unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, the bill’s proponents argue it’s crucial to cement marriage equality in state law.

In 2022, Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed, a law ensuring states cannot refuse to recognize marriages based on sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. This bill would also redefine marriage in Pennsylvania as “a civil contract between two individuals,” moving beyond the outdated notion of exclusively heterosexual unions.

Advocates for the bill, including its prime sponsor Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, who is married, emphasized the importance of equal legal protections.

“I don’t need your respect, acceptance, or understanding of my relationship,” Kenyatta passionately declared. “This bill is about our laws reflecting established jurisprudence.”

Kenyatta’s push for this bill was fueled by concerns over conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s suggestion that the court should reconsider rulings on contraception and the Obergefell decision, following the overturning of federal abortion rights.

Should Obergefell be overturned, Pennsylvania would revert to laws invalidating same-sex marriages, impacting countless families across the state, as highlighted by a Poynter Institute analysis.

“Loving couples raising families in this commonwealth shouldn’t fear having their families torn apart if a court decision changes,” stated Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny County.

Opponents of the bill have argued the state has a vested interest in heterosexual marriages. Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin County, suggested that these unions are vital for procreation and raising children by their biological parents. Meanwhile, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton County, framed her opposition in religious terms, describing marriage as a “sacred covenant institution created by God between a man and a woman,” and pointed out that even Democratic leaders like Barack Obama and Joe Biden initially opposed same-sex marriage.

Despite these arguments, public support for same-sex marriage has steadily risen over the past three decades. Gallup polling shows that around 70% of Americans now believe same-sex couples should have the same marriage rights as others.

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