Out state Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) and Rep. Steve McCarter (D-154th Dist.) introduced a marriage-equality bill Oct. 3. House Bill 1686 is only the second time a bill calling for full marriage rights for same-sex couples has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House; former state Rep. Babette Josephs spearheaded such legislation in 2011, but that bill did not move out of committee.
McCarter and Sims announced their plan to introduce the bill this past summer and unveiled the legislation at a press conference Thursday.
The bill currently has 31 cosponsors, with two more expected to join by the end of this week. The bill includes support from one Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Chris Ross (158th Dist.).
Sims told PGN he believes Pennsylvania’s first out Republican state legislator, Rep. Mike Fleck (R-81st Dist.), will also join.
The bill had not been assigned to a committee at presstime but Sims and McCarter said it will likely go to the judiciary or state-government committee, which is chaired by antigay state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe.
The bill was modeled after a Senate marriage-equality bill introduced in March by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.).
McCarter said the rapidly changing marriage laws in the nation could play a big role in garnering more support and cosponsors for the bill.
“Every decision that comes down — whether in New Jersey or with the other lawsuits that are pending — each time the publicity of these cases goes forward, we get more discussion,” he said. “Many members are waiting for an opportunity to do this.”
Using current events, including here in Pennsylvania, as a jumping-off point will be a good basis for discussion with both fellow lawmakers and constituents, he added.
“We have to keep encouraging and pointing out the changing environment. Everything from what happened in Montgomery County to all the decisions coming down, it has moved us in that direction,” he said. “Pennsylvania will soon be isolated. Equality for all is what is needed.”
Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast to not offer recognition of same-sex unions. If New Jersey’s pending court ruling is upheld, it will be the only state in the Northeast without marriage equality.
McCarter said he expects the bill to have a hearing but said House Republicans have not been forthcoming with bills that are LGBT-specific.
“This is why we need more pressure from the public, because it will interest legislators,” McCarter added.
This past spring, Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.) introduced House Bill 1178 to legalize civil unions in Pennsylvania.
But Sims contended the civil-union system should be a thing of the past.
“We tried separate but equal for a long time in our country and it wasn’t effective,” he said. “There were places in the country where civil unions were palpable enough to pass but now it is like having a conversation in 2003, not 2013. Civil unions are not equal to marriage when it comes to federal law.”
Sims said that although Gov. Tom Corbett does not support marriage equality, LGBT bills still need to be initiated to keep the conversation moving forward, especially among Republicans.
“It is a process, you need to get people familiar with the issue,” he said, noting that the LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance had little support when first introduced but now has more than 90 cosponsors. “Republicans in the country are politically aware on what is riding on them. They aren’t the Republicans of 1995. With this bill, we give them the opportunity to distance themselves from the extremely hateful far-right conservatives.”