Civil Union Bill to be Introduced in PA

Rep. Mark Cohen would like to legalize same-sex unions in the Commonwealth

Pennsylvania Representative Mark Cohen announced he will introduce a bill to legalize civil union throughout the state. The Philly Democrat and more than 40 co-sponsors held a press conference in Harrisburg this week to discuss the legislative initiative.

“Support for civil unions today does not preclude support for marriage equality now or in the future,” Cohen said at the news conference. “The issue as I see it is whether we can grant meaningful rights and recognitions in the GLBT community within a reasonable period of time.”

The proposal – H.B. 708 – would allow same-sex couples to enjoy civil unions throughout the Commonwealth. The same state laws that apply to heterosexual married couples would also apply to gays and lesbians. Cohen described the civil unions as a compromise between marriage equality and banning marriage for gay couples completely through a constitutional amendment. He also affirmed that the bill would not require any religious institutions or clergy persons to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples.

“I believe that there is a reasonable chance that, with a strong organizational effort, we can enact civil union legislation by the end of 2012,” said Cohen. “Doing so would require the support of the vast majority in the House and Senate, and the backing of a substantial number of Republicans in each chamber. This is possible to achieve in a legislature that does not support same-sex marriage because civil unions are not marriage. They are not a form of marriage; they are not a second-class marriage. They are not marriage, period.”

Instead, he described civil unions as legal arrangements “for committed gay and lesbian couples to handle relations with each other, with health care decisions, with joint property and with the outside world. Civil unions do not have the social significance of marriage, and they likely never will. They are, however, an important step forward in the process of according gay and lesbian couples the respect as human beings that all people should have.”

About 60 percent of Pennsylvanians support civil unions, according to a 2009 poll by Franklin & Marshall College. This breaks down to 73 percent in the southeastern suburbs, 76 percent in the northeast and 61 percent in the Philadelphia region.