State's official denial of gay marriages is divorced from reality

Homosexual couples have the right to the same good or bad marriage as everyone else

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A Pennsylvania judge decided last week that a county row officer doesn't get to decide for the rest of us that same-sex marriages are OK in this state, and as a matter of law, the judge is right.

Most anyone with the stamina to read the 35-page opinion, with footnotes, from President Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court should agree. Until the General Assembly or a state court overturns the law, a 1996 law against same-sex marriage stands.

Thus it's back to the single life, at least in a strictly legal sense, for the 174 same-sex couples who went to suburban Philadelphia to get marriage licenses from Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes in these past seven weeks.

Laws such as these generally fall under the unintentionally hilarious heading "defense of marriage,'' as if we heterosexuals have done such a bang-up job of defending the institution these past few generations.

The true legal avenue to defend marriage would be to make divorce more difficult, but is that the cause celebre?

Not on your autographed picture of Liberace.

No, with about half of American marriages ending in epic failure, and countless other heterosexual couples not bothering to get legally hitched at all, our representatives have assured us there's no reason to worry, everything's cool, marriage is being defended because we're not going to let our gay brethren make any legal commitments at all.

That seems pointless and mean-spirited. The animus is baffling. If the real objection is the "unnatural'' act of gay sex, how is keeping those two women down the block from getting a marriage license stopping that? We should all know by now that the best way to keep any couple, gay or straight, from having much sex is to keep them married forever.

What we're talking about here is a legal document. Holy matrimony is something separate and apart from the legalese that two people need for tax and insurance forms. No church need recognize or honor such marriages.

That doesn't mean gay couples can't seek out churches that will honor their love, of course. In the past couple of decades, I've attended a couple of such commitment ceremonies. One still endures. The other was kaput faster than a marriage with Elizabeth Taylor. The gay track record in this arena probably won't be any better than that of heterosexuals in the long run.

Yet the good news, for those who still believe in the institution, is that people continue to value marriage. Otherwise, there'd be no fuss. Already, gay couples can adopt children, employers can offer same-sex benefits and domestic violence protections extend to co-habitants outside of marriage.

Yet none of that is enough. People in love want more, want a societal imprimatur on their commitment.

Mr. Hanes said he will comply with the court order to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples, but the constitutionality of the state law banning such unions is being challenged in a separate case in federal court. That was filed in July by the American Civil Liberties Union.

This ruling will have no impact on that challenge. Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU, said, "It's full speed ahead.''

Some of the couples who received marriage licenses in Montgomery County, and then married, might try to join the ACLU's case, said Robert Hein, an attorney representing 32 of the couples. Or they could file another action in the Commonwealth Court.

Wherever one stands on the "defense of marriage,'' that kind of tenacity should be good news. It couldn't be more clear that the institution of marriage is here to stay.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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