Ruling on Defense of Marriage Act lets Pa., other states ignore same-sex marriages from elsewhere
The Supreme Court disentangled the federal government from the same-sex marriage debate, kicking the issue back to state politicians in a pair of rulings that animated supporters and opponents alike.
The court, in a 5-4 ruling, struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and woman for the purpose of federal laws. Another ruling allowed California to resume recognizing same-sex marriages, but it undid a sweeping decision from a federal circuit court that could have had national implications.
“They don’t answer the million-dollar question of what happens if you’re recognized in State A and you move to State B, which doesn’t recognize it,” said Duquesne Law School Dean Kenneth Gormley, a constitutional law professor.
Pennsylvania defined marriage as between a man and woman in 1996, and the high court’s ruling didn’t touch the section of DOMA that allows states to ignore same-sex marriages performed outside their borders.
“There’s no repercussion for Pennsylvania because of the way state law reads,” said Charles Lamberton, a Downtown employment and civil rights lawyer.
But the fact that both rulings expanded same-sex marriage rights buoyed supporters, who say they hope this speeds public acceptance of gay unions. A Franklin & Marshall College Poll in May found 54 percent of people support same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, up from 33 percent in 2006. Opposition fell from 60 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in May, according to the poll, which surveyed 526 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.3 percentage points.
Since President Bill Clinton signed DOMA, shifting public opinion prompted the elimination of the military’s ban on gay service members and President Obama to switch his position on gay marriage, which he now supports. Clinton issued a statement praising the decisions without mentioning that he signed DOMA in 1996.
Democratic candidates for governor lined up in support of the rulings and called for expanded rights for gays and lesbians in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Shaler, supports the state’s ban, spokeswoman Janet Kelley said.
“I’d be disingenuous in saying marriage equality in Pennsylvania is within reach in the immediate future, but I think what has changed here — and we see it playing out in the last couple of months — is the willingness of my colleagues in a bipartisan and bicameral basis to publicly support legislation that would provide the same civil rights” for gays as heterosexuals, state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said.
Backlash among social conservatives and religious organizations could galvanize political opposition in states around the country, said Natalie Davis, professor of American politics at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala.
“You can run on this if you’re running for Congress,” Davis said.
Leaders of the Pittsburgh diocese of the Catholic and Anglican churches released statements lamenting the ruling and pledging to maintain their opposition to gay marriage.
“The church has countered the culture throughout most of its history. We find ourselves, both sadly and increasingly, in this position in a nation once seen as a ‘light upon a hill,’ and a ‘hope of all the earth,’” Anglican Archbishop Robert Duncan said.
Catholic Bishop David Zubik said the court’s decision not to declare a right to same-sex marriage that would have affected Pennsylvania “does give us reason for hope.”
“We have already seen that where same-sex unions have been imposed in states and communities, the church’s ability to serve has been forcefully curtailed,” Zubik said. “For example, in states and municipalities where same-sex unions have been approved, the church has been forced to withdraw from adoption ministry.”
Coincidentally, the Catholic Diocese had already scheduled a program Wednesday night titled “The Implications of Redefining Marriage.”
Broad support for gay marriage among young people could pose a greater threat to churches than any court ruling, said the Rev. Paul Fullmer, chaplain of Lebanon Valley College.
Seventy percent of people born since 1980 support same-sex marriage, compared with less than half of those born earlier, according to a Pew Center for the People & the Press poll released in March.
“Even in the next 10 years, we’re going to see a lot of churches needing to shut their doors,” said Fullmer, a Presbyterian. “Those congregations that do recognize that the younger generation has a good point in affirming the humanity of gays and lesbians, those are the congregations that have a better chance of making it.”
Though narrowly tailored, the decisions are part of a larger trend likely to force Catholic clergy into situations — baptism of the child of same-sex couples and sponsorship by a homosexual to name two — that conflict with canonical law, the Rev. Lawrence DiNardo, vicar of canonical services for the diocese, said at the marriage forum at St. Paul Seminary in Green Tree. More than 70 people attended the three-speaker forum, which was scheduled several months ago. Church law on marriage can’t change to reflect social mores, DiNardo said, because “Christ made it a sacrament.”
The Associated Press contributed. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or [email protected].