Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Making History

History was made in Pennsylvania today, history that will play a role in our nation's 238 year road to being the the true Land of the Free. U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III overturned the Commonwealth's 1996 decision to restrict marriages to one man and one woman, effectively banning marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. 

At the moment of the decision, same sex marriages granted by other states are officially recognized and same sex partners in Pennsylvania are free to be married in the state. City Hall granted marriage licenses until 5:30PM today and will stay open until 7PM tomorrow.

Liberal or Conservative, Pennsylvania is not a state that takes decisions lightly, and our legislators are often reluctant to overturn antiquated ideals. We still pay a special tax to help the relief effort for a flood that ravaged Johnstown...almost 80 years ago. It's no exaggeration to say that we hold on to our past.

It would not be characteristic of Pennsylvania to relinquish such unjust laws with legalese and technicalities, but with the fine words of Judge Jones, who was put in office with the support of Pennsylvania's own purveyor of hate: Rick Santorum.

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history." It befits Pennsylvania's unique political culture that Judge Jones recycled Ronald Reagan's own words to decry a demoralizing conservative effort. But it's not ironic. Reagan was no theocrat.

The decision was pushed to the U.S. District Court by couples across the state seeking marriage licenses or recognition within the state, and it's not short of its detractors. Brian Brown, President of the National Organization of Marriage said, "The ruling unilaterally makes an end-run around the democratic process." 

What he and other opponents fail to recognize is that civil rights as they apply to individuals are inalienable and not subject to a vote. If segregation and integrated marriages were put to a vote, there are many parts of the country that would choose to turn back the clock. This decision was made in the interest of freedom for all, not the opinions of some.

As I stood on North Broad Street watching newly married couples emerge from City Hall in celebration, I watched this freedom unfold. But my heart was most touched as I watched my Facebook feed unfold. Friends and family members, some I haven't seen in years, offered their congratulations and praise for this decision. Individuals with absolutely no vested interest in same sex marriage have become a poignant voice in the fight against lingering bigotry. These voices, absent or silent just twenty years ago, are not just aiding the fight for the right to marry, but the Freedom to Be who we are.

Thank you, Pennsylvania.

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