Pa., Take a Cue from N.Y.

It's time to stand up for marriage equality at home

As New York became the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage this weekend, it should give Pennsylvanians pause. Not only is New York our third neighboring state to grant LGBT couples many of the same rights heterosexual couples have long enjoyed (for starters: tax breaks), it follows both Delaware and New Jersey in offering some sort of legalized union for same-sex couples. And states that now offer gay marriage include not only New York, but also Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and Washington D.C.

The news coming out of New York this weekend is certainly cause for celebration, with images of LGBT people taking to the streets in many well-known gay enclaves throughout the city – like outside the famous Stonewall Inn where 30 years ago gay rights would forever be changed, and in small, sleepy hamlets throughout the state where municipalities are gearing up for an onslaught of marriage applications when New York officially begins recognizing same-sex nuptials late next month. And Gay Pride yesterday was especially poignant, as more people than ever attended events (it’s estimated that almost two million revelers took to the parade route alone).

But with all of the celebration comes the sobering reality that for folks here at home, gay marriage is a mere blip on the political radar.

Sure, there’s been talk in our home state from both camps about the fate of marriage equality – the proponents point to it being a great equalizer, saying it offers real incentives for LGBT citizens demanding the same rights, while opponents cry that it will somehow undermine traditional marriage and family (no one has yet to explain how that works).

Perhaps we can learn from New York, where getting gay marriage legalized took a lot of money and clout. Not only did the governor reach out to the super rich for financial support to stir lobbyists (so much for getting that kind of nod from Gov. Tom Corbett here in PA) but personal stories also seemed to have an enormous impact. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s girlfriend has a brother who’s gay. And even several Republican legislators who helped legalize the measure were moved by personal accounts, gay and lesbian family members and an awareness that the decision is history-making.

When the next generation looks back to what decisions we make today – state by state by state – what will they think of us? Will we be the people who ended a tragic era of discrimination? Or will they see us as a people governed by our own fears and ignorance?

In New York, the advocates for marriage equality spoke much louder than the opposition to it. Even the Roman Catholic Church – which has suffered its own setbacks – seemed to only whisper its criticism, knowing perhaps its position as moral authority is in truly bad shape. It will take the same force in Pa. and any other state to also make gay marriage happen, with plenty of support from the higher ups in politics and business – in both parties.

The progress in New York – even under Republican control (bravo to the GOP members who supported the measure – they did so despite threats from their own conservative constituency who have vowed to vote them out of office) should send Pennsylvania a message this week. We can’t realistically preach about acceptance without doing something about it (more than a tourism campaign and more than a rainbow flag at City Hall). While these are great starts, we will not be considered a supportive, welcoming place for gay people as long as we treat our own gay community like second-class citizens.

If we’re serious about the message we send this patriotic July 4th – with celebrations about independence and freedom stretching across our city – then we need to make sure the gay marriage issue is included in the conversation. It’s up to not only the LGBT community to make that happen. It also requires serious political support, and a bipartisan endorsement from heterosexual friends, legislators and every day people.

As well as being the fifth largest state in the nation, let’s also fight to be the seventh state to legalize gay marriage. If New York can do it – so can we.