Altared State | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Altared State

A judge delivers PA from the hands of bigots

When federal Judge John E. Jones III tossed out Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban last week, LGBT advocates celebrated in Shadyside and across the state. Mayor Bill Peduto expressed hope that the first wedding he presided over would be that of a same-sex couple. Scattered online commenters bitched that, while we can now marry whoever we wanted, we still can't get beer at a convenience store ... which is when I knew for sure that Pennsylvanians were taking this in stride.

In fact, the most gratifying response to Jones' ruling came from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick "Man-on-Dog Action" Santorum, who had this to say:


As the lefty-news website ThinkProgress noted, Santorum "appeared on Fox News just minutes after [Jones handed down his opinion], but didn't address the matter." He hasn't even tweeted about it — though he has found time to tweet about having "enjoyed a cafesito at Versaille Miami" — or responded to ThinkProgress' requests for comment.

Obviously, even Republicans have realized they are on the wrong side of the political curve, and Santorum has special reason for keeping quiet: As a senator, he supported Jones' 2002 appointment to the federal court. Now, it almost sounds like Jones is trolling him.

For one thing, Jones' opinion uses the marriage vows as subject headers, describing the lives of same-sex couples under captions like "For better, for worse." And it concludes by arguing "We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history." That's gotta hurt: The phrase "ash heap of history" was famously used by ... Ronald Reagan, to predict the fate of Communism and all "tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."

Die-hard opponents, like the conservative Pennsylvania Pastors Network, were of course unconvinced. "The court has arrogantly assumed the right to supersede the constitutional right of the states," the group said in a statement — warning that the outcome "should scare anyone who loves freedom." (For God's sake, people, what about the rights of our Harrisburg legislators?)

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, meanwhile, said that while Catholics oppose discrimination, Jones' ruling "waters down" marriage, opening the door for further changes "that are harmful to society ... especially to children."

It's nice to see Catholic leaders express such concern for child welfare — better late than never, I always say. And it might ease Zubik's mind to know that when Karla Bolster and her partner, Terry Cowden, went down to Allegheny County's marriage-license office at 8 a.m. the morning after the ruling, the welfare of their two kids was high on the list of priorities. The two wanted to get married as quickly as possible — Cowden proposed by text message — in order to cement parental and other rights before Gov. Tom Corbett could take them away again by filing an appeal. (Later that day, to his credit, Corbett announced he was dropping the suit instead.)

"My son wants the whole big wedding ceremony," Bolster told me. "I just want to make sure ... our family is protected."

As for Zubik's fear that the couples seeking a license that morning will "water down" marriage ... the three couples I spoke with in the lobby of the City-County Building that morning had been together for an average of 16 years. According to a 2012 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, fully one-third of straight marriages have already dissolved by that point.

If anything, Jones' ruling arguably makes the moral underpinning of straight marriages stronger. There is, after all, something cheap about a love that is defined, even partly, by what it denies to others. In two-thirds of the weddings I've ever attended, someone ends up reading from the Bible passage in which the apostle Paul insists that "love is not jealous." Finally, straight couples are in a position to prove it.

Maybe that's what scares some of them.

Are we "a better people than what these laws represent"? The verdict on that one hasn't come in. But Jones' ruling has finally given all of us, gay and straight, a chance to find out. Not to mention a moment of silence from Rick Santorum.

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