In 1996, I was a legislative research analyst in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives when the General Assembly enacted the statute specifically prohibiting the recognition of same sex marriages. That statute provides as follows:
It is hereby declared to the strong and longstanding public policy of this Commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman. A marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this Commonwealth.
I recall listening to the floor debate in my office on the day of the Bill’s final passage and discussing it with other staff members. While I was not involved with the drafting or passage of the Bill, I very clearly recall the urgency among the elected members of the House to move the Bill quickly because there was a great fear that some judge in Hawaii could force the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to recognize a marriage between same sex couples. And so it passed, unremarkably, and moved to the Senate for final approval before enactment.
But Tuesday was a remarkable day for same sex couples in Pennsylvania who have been governed by that 1996 law. Pursuant to Whitewood v. Wolf, 2014 WL 2058105 (U.S.M.D., May 20, 2014), the statute has been declared unconstitutional and same sex couples can now marry in Pennsylvania. There are headlines in every newspaper and on-line media outlets and videos on the internet and the news. There was a line at the Dauphin County courthouse yesterday morning when it opened of same sex couples wanting to apply for licenses. In Lancaster County, the first same sex couple to apply arrived at the Register of Wills office around 8:45 a.m. It’s historical, no question, and it is now the law of the Commonwealth.