Native Returns for Marriage Equality Event

This article L.A. Johnson was originally published on April 17, 2007 in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Read the full article here.

More states are taking steps toward marriage equality for same-sex couples, and even states with civil unions are coming to the realization that civil unions aren't enough.

That's the word from Pittsburgh native son and national marriage equality advocate Evan Wolfson, who tomorrow is slated to discuss the state of same-sex marriage in the United States at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave, East Liberty.

The Women's Law Project and Persad Center are lead sponsors of the event, which is free, open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. with wine and hors d'oeuvres.

"We're likely to see one to three states [out of four in play including New Hampshire, Oregon, Illinois and Washington] this year that will pass some form of partnerships or civil union bill as a step toward full marriage equality," says Mr. Wolfson, 50, a Squirrel Hill native and author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People's Right to Marry," which now is available in paperback. "We're also seeing a growing understanding that anything less than marriage doesn't do the job."

Although civil unions are steps in the right direction, they don't provide full fairness for families and full protection to couples equal to the protections of marriage, he says.

Even in states such as New Jersey, which has civil unions, same-sex couples are often denied spousal health insurance benefits and pension beneficiary benefits.

New Jersey -- which just passed civil unions late last year and ordered that civil union couples should have "the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law" that married couples have -- is likely to revisit the issue because civil unions thus far haven't proven equal to marriage.

And just last week, legislative committees in California and Connecticut passed bills to move past the interim legal statuses in those states -- domestic partnerships and civil unions respectively -- toward marriage, he says. Of course, it remains to be seen whether these bills actually will make it into law.

"Most importantly, marriage is a vocabulary that everybody understands," says Mr. Wolfson, a graduate of Allderdice High School, Yale University and Harvard Law School. "Civil union doesn't even have a verb. People don't know what it is, and it doesn't have the same respect and systemic protection across state lines or between the state and federal government and the private world."

Tangibly and intangibly, civil unions fall short of full marriage, and Mr. Wolfson suggests that married people ask themselves whether they would trade their own marriage for a civil union. If they wouldn't, why should someone else?

"Either marriage and civil union are the same thing, in which case, why do we need two lines at the clerk's office, or civil union is not the same, in which case, what is the government withholding from some families and why should it?" he says.

Pennsylvania defines marriage as a union between a woman and a man, just as the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act does.

However, just last week, state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, introduced a bill that would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodation, says Sue Frietsche, the Women's Law Project's senior staff lawyer.

She says although the bill doesn't address same-sex unions, "it's really an important first step and important in terms of the longer-term struggle for same-sex marriage rights."

Mr. Wolfson believes it's time Pennsylvania move forward to end discriminatory barriers that couples and their children, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, face.

"Pennsylvania will be stronger when all its families are strengthened," he says.