HARRISBURG – Despite recent gains for gay marriage in a number of states, analysts say you needn’t expect Pennsylvania to join their number anytime soon.
The Patriot-News says same-sex marriage did not become an issue in row office elections earlier this month despite support for the position by the three Democrats who swept the races. But Gov. Tom Corbett and many in the Republican-controlled General Assembly oppose gay marriage, and state law barring it would have to be repealed or struck down by a court.
Ted Martin, the executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania, said a sea change in public perceptions about same-sex marriage that is happening around the country is also happening here.
“This shift is starting to happen,” Martin said. “However Pennsylvania has a long way to go.”
People on both sides of the issue told the paper that the political climate in the commonwealth has not forced legislators to make highly publicized votes on the issue. And while polls offer support for the idea that gay marriage will eventually come to Pennsylvania, there are also indications that it is unlikely to happen in Harrisburg or at the ballot box anytime soon.
A Franklin & Marshall poll in August 2011 found Pennsylvanians supported same-sex marriage 50 percent to 42 percent, a near-reversal of the positions recorded just two years earlier. In both polls, however, nearly all respondents who said they opposed same-sex marriage described themselves as “strongly opposed.” The same poll found 62 percent favored civil unions, with 34 percent opposed, a big jump in support from the 50-42 margin against that the poll recorded eight years ago.
A Muhlenberg College poll in December found support among Pennsylvanians for same-sex marriage, 50 percent to 37 percent, but a poll of likely voters in September found 44 percent in favor of same-sex marriage, 45 percent opposed and the remainder undecided. Likely voters are significantly older than the general population, said Muhlenberg professor Chris Borick.
“Support drops dramatically as age increases,” Borick said.
And although polls show support, Borick said he isn’t sure that same-sex marriage would have been approved if it had been on the ballot.
“It would have been very close (in Pennsylvania), and I would have thought it would not pass,” Borick said. “Four years from now, if the trends continue, I think it would.”
But G. Terry Madonna, a Franklin and Marshall College pollster and professor, said the odds of a measure getting that far are slim.
“I don’t see any prospect for that in the near future without a big change in the legislature,” Madonna said.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, a suburban Philadelphia Democrat, said a same-sex marriage bill he introduced last year went nowhere, but he predicts that a future one will.
“It’s going to be increasingly difficult to go back to your constituents and say, ‘I voted to keep discrimination in the law,’” Leach said. He said southeastern Pennsylvania Republicans will soon have to listen to their more socially liberal constituents, and Democrats will no longer be able to get away with giving the issue lip service.
Sen. Mary Jo White, a Republican who is retiring from a district that includes Clarion, Forest and Venango counties as well as parts of Butler, Erie and Warren counties, said it’s not that simple. White said she believed marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman, but gay and lesbian couples should have a path to many of the rights of married people, and she believes many Republicans would be willing to talk about that.
“If they really had to come and vote on it,” White said, “they would not be that conservative.”
White said, however, that she thinks such issues as education and jobs should be the top priorities of lawmakers, and right now the issue lacks immediacy.
“Most legislators look at this as a low-priority issue that doesn’t affect most of their constituents very much,” she said.