The State the 21st Century Forgot

No matter what the polls say, when you're talking social change, "inevitable" has a different meaning in Pennsylvania.

More than 50 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage, and almost 75 percent say its legal recognition is “inevitable,” says a recent Pew survey.

As a tax-paying Narberth lesbian with a wife of 20 years, three grown children and two dogs, why aren’t I rejoicing? Because I live in Pennsylvania, the state that the 21st century forgot.

In fact, Pennsylvania is so primordial, so narrow minded, so enragingly intransigent, it could well be the 50th state to recognize gay marriage. You heard it here first.

Absent Philadelphia and parts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is Mississippi, but with better teeth. I can say that with some authority, having traveled throughout Mississippi covering college football games in the mid-’70s.

Back then, those of us who lived in New Orleans considered ourselves so morally superior to our neighboring state that we referred to it as Missippissi, a habit that to this day I cannot break.

I don’t recall ever having stepped foot in Pennsylvania before I joined the Philadelphia Inquirer in ’79. Compared to my years in the bayou, it would be a progressive oasis, I thought. I was quickly dissuaded of that notion the first time I went to stock up on some wine and beer.

I headed to the supermarket. Imagine my surprise when I learned that in Pennsylvania, you can only purchase wine — and liquor — in something called a State Store. But you can’t buy beer there. For that, you must go to a beer distributor.

Off I went to my then-neighborhood State Store, which was staffed by what appeared to be two stoned homeless guys behind a filthy counter. In my pathetic naïveté, I asked if they could recommend a good Chardonnay. They looked at me like I was speaking in tongues.

Thirty-four years later, the situation hasn’t changed much, though the Pennsylvania legislature is making noises to privatize the highly unionized State Stores. Don’t bet on it.

In any case, better grab a tall one if you want to discuss abortion rights or gun ownership in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians will fight to the death, literally, to keep their illegal arsenals, but they don’t want their womenfolk to have the legal right to choose.

As for same-sex marriage, don’t hold your breath waiting for Pennsylvania to follow Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Just because the U.S. Supreme Court is about to rule on gay marriage, and could very well change history, doesn’t mean that Pennsylvania will.

However, support for gay marriage is growing in this state. A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll showed 54 percent of Pennsylvanians are in favor of it, up from 33 percent in 2006.

Still, the legislature has been agonizingly slow to take action. It can’t even pass an LGBT anti-discrimination bill, which in the same poll 70 percent of respondents said they favored.

“Inevitable” has a different meaning in Pennsylvania, at least in the statehouse. That is why we’re going to come in 50th in the same-sex marriage race. Somebody get me a drink.