Street Level Conversations: Northwest Philly talks gay marriage [video]

‘Street-Level Conversations’ is a discussion-based civic-engagement project in Northwest Philly. It combines facts and personal stories dealing with the issues most pertinent in our communities and seeks to inspire solutions. SLC aims to empower every member of the community to believe in the validity of their voice and the vital role they play in sharing it.

As the wheels of change turn in favor of gay marriage equality, nine states including New York and Maryland have legalized same-sex marriage. However, Pennsylvania still does not recognize the marriage, civil union or domestic partnership of same-sex couples.

NewsWorks asked people across Northwest Philadelphia to share their opinions on an issue which often evokes religious opposition and equal-rights support.

Views varied

“I’m absolutely for it, everybody should have the right to marry whoever they love,” said Wendy Osterweil of East Mt. Airy, “It’s ridiculous that it’s not legal everywhere.”

Woodrow DeCasere of Souderton, Pa., member of a Mennonite Church, says the issue should not be mandated by church leaders.

“I’m not so sure where I stand. I would say that as far as marriage, it’s kind of an odd term,” DeCasere said. “I would say that I’m still processing the whole thing. You have to really search it out for yourself … spend time asking what’s important.”

Andrea Oley of Blue Bell maintained that same-sex couples should have the same rights and insurance benefits as other couples.

“I personally don’t understand why anybody else would care who marries who. What goes on in people’s homes is private,” said Oley. “They should have the same rights … as any other couple.”

Noting that her thoughts on the issue stem from humanist belief, Lisa Kay of East Mt. Airy said, “Everyone is created equal and is entitled to equal rights.”

For her part, Shahidah Whitaker of West Oak Lane said religion doesn’t always influence in individual opinions.

“A lot of people pick and choose what they want to believe,” said Whitaker. “It’s interpreted the way you feel.”

Pa. legislative tug-of-war

Former state Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Phila.) and current state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) had introduced bills to legalize gay marriage, but they haven’t gained much traction in committee.

Last March, the House Government Committee delayed its vote on HB 1434, better known as the “Marriage Protection” amendment which, if passed, would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution and redefine marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman.”

The bill, which was introduced by State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), is set to be back in court this spring.

Equality Pennsylvania, a group that advocates for LGBT rights in Pa., gained momentum last month in Harrisburg for an LGBT Equality caucus.

The caucus, which seeks equal rights for LGBT citizens in Pa., now has 58 members, including 35 state representatives and 13 state senators, includiing a handful of Republicans. Also in that mix are state Reps. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon) and Brian Sims (D-Phila.), both openly gay state lawmakers.

A national outlook

Later this month, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

United States v. Windsor argues that DOMA violates the equal-protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution by recognizing and honoring marriages of different-sex couples but not the legal marriages of same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 27. A ruling is expected in June 2013.

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