The measure, the first of its kind in the Pennsylvania legislature, is being spearheaded by Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.).
Cohen said he’s so far secured cosponsorships from 24 lawmakers and another 10 are considering signing on. He expects to officially introduce the bill by April 14.
Cohen said that while he supports full-marriage equality for same-sex couples, he believes the more logical approach would be to first have the state adopt a civil-union law.
“Civil unions are more attainable in a reasonable period of time than gay marriage is,” Cohen said. “Civil unions don’t give gays the status of marriage, they’re not as good as marriage, but I think right now it’s a much more attainable goal.”
Civil unions preceded the adoption of same-sex marriage in Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire, although New Jersey, which approved civil unions several years ago, earlier this year saw a failed attempt at marriage equality.
Pennsylvania Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.) last year introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, which currently has two cosponsors.
Leach said this week that while he supports Cohen’s efforts, civil unions set up only a “second-class marriage.”
“I am a believer in incremental progress and understand that this is a process to get the best we can in the short-term, and I wish Mark the best of luck. But we have to make sure that this isn’t a final resolution to the issue,” Leach said, noting that he has not heard of a similar measure in the Senate.
Cohen said he doesn’t believe marriage equality is a “realistic possibility in the near future,” adding that even the chances of his own bill passing this session are low. He predicted it could be a multi-year effort, but said he’s willing to re-introduce the measure in the next several sessions if it doesn’t pass this year.
Cohen said many lawmakers have so far been hesitant to put their name on the bill, but that he believes their reluctance will decrease over time.
“As I’ve been going around seeking sponsors, there are very large numbers of people who assured me they’d vote for it but they just don’t want to sponsor it,” he said. “This bill has statewide support and if we can get more demonstrations of support from these legislators, more will feel comfortable making their identities known as sponsors.”
PGN confirmed that Reps. Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.), Mike O’Brien (D-175th Dist.), Kathy Manderino (D-194th Dist.), Jewell Williams (D-197th Dist.), Rosita Youngblood (D-198th Dist.), Tony Payton (D-179th Dist.) and Ron Buxton (D-103rd Dist.) have agreed to sign on as cosponsors.
“I think it’s important that everybody’s entitled to the same rights,” Youngblood said about her reason for signing on to the bill. “It’s as simple as that.”
Johnna Pro, spokesperson for Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203rd Dist.), said the representative is “on board” with the legislation but, as he’s chair of the appropriations committee, he typically doesn’t cosponsor any non-budget measures.
Rep. James Roebuck (D-188th Dist.) said Tuesday that he supports civil unions but has not yet read the legislation and come to a decision on cosponsorship. A spokesperson for Rep. Robert Donatucci (D-185th Dist.) said the lawmaker would review the bill and “go from there.”
Calls to all other state representatives from Philadelphia were not returned by press time.
Payton said civil unions should function as a sufficient compromise until full marriage equality can be achieved.
“People should be able to live their lives,” Payton said. “They should be allowed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like everybody else. And civil unions would set up the structure to do that. There’s a lot of different people with different views in Pennsylvania, but I think this should be something that’s acceptable to ultimately the majority of the body.”
O’Brien noted that his colleagues have been “hesitant” to bring bills such as Rep. Josh Shapiro’s (D-153rd Dist.) measure to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s hate-crimes law or Rep. Dan Frankel’s (D-23rd Dist.) nondiscrimination bill to the floor for a vote.
He postured that, while Cohen’s measure may face less of an uphill battle than Leach’s, both bills help to further the discussion about LGBT rights among lawmakers.
“In all honesty, I think what we need to do is to use any vehicle possible to keep the question before the legislature,” O’Brien said. “I think tactically it’s the best thing to continue to put the issue before the General Assembly. It’s bringing it to the forefront and just keeping the ball rolling. But do I believe civil unions would have a better chance of passage than marriage? Yeah, I do.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.