PA Legislators Kickoff LGBT Freedom Week Supporting Same-Sex Couples

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Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D) held his annual marriage equality press conference this afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda, proclaiming that there are no rational arguments against full equality for same-sex couples.

Joined by several other state senators and representatives, Sen. Leach introduced Senate Bill 461, the Marriage Equality Act. He pointed out “a few years from now, we’ll wonder what all the fuss is.” Still, the bill faces an uphill battle as Pennsylvania recently elected a majority of Republicans to both its legislative bodies as well as a Republican governor.

State Representative Mark Cohen (D) was also on hand to introduce a bill in the House that would allow for civil unions, a bill for which he has 41 cosponsors. It’s his goal to have civil unions in Pennsylvania by the end of 2012.

In his remarks, Cohen acknowledged that “civil unions are not marriage” and “do not have the social significance of marriage and probably never will.” They do, however, provide important benefits to same-sex couples that are not currently available. According to a 2009 Muhlenberg College poll, 61% of Pennsylvanians support civil unions.

Others were on hand to offer their support for both initiatives. Ted Martin, Executive Director of Equality Pennsylvania, took time to point out the devastating reality for LGBT Pennsylvanians:

At a time when it is perfectly legal in more than three quarters of the state to fire, evict, and deny public accommodations to an LGBT person or simply dismiss their relationship as nothing official EVERYWHERE in the Commonwealth, we need to have honest discussions on how we treat real people in the 21st Century.

Martin went on to point out that St. Valentine, today’s namesake, was a martyr, and “too many LGBT people have already experienced the harshest of circumstances.”

Rev. Pastor Larry Hawkins of Harrisburg’s St. Michael’s Lutheran Church also spoke out, imploring people of faith to support people these efforts:

Religion is at its best when it stands by those who have been marginalized. … I urge people of faith to be at our religious best and stand for marriage equality.

Flanked by LGBT families and allies, Sen. Jim Ferlo, Sen. Larry Farnese, Rep. Dan Frankel, Rep. Pam DeLissio, and Rep. Eugene DePasquale all added their support for the proposed bills.

Sen. Farnese echoed Martin’s concerns about the importance of protections in employment and public safety for LGBT people.

Sen. Ferlo said, “The time has come to see love between two people.”

Rep. DePasquale demanded, “Which side of history do you want to be on?”

Unfortunately, proponents of LGBT equality may soon find themselves playing defense as Republicans push for an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would prohibit any legal recognition for same-sex couples. Rep. Frankel called the proposal “radical” and ‘wrong.”

Wrapping up the press conference, Sen. Leach reminded those in attendance that “”We’ll be here every year until we have marriage equality in Pennsylvania.”

Click here to see the full LGBT Freedom Week schedule.

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