Don’t fear PA’s gay marriages

Today The Philadelphia Inquirer published my essay on the gay marriage ruling in Pennsylvania. Read it here at

People hold up signs and cheer at City Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the overturning of Pennsylvania’s gay-marriage ban. MATT SLOCUM / AP (courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer)


Update, Dec. 24, 2014: For some reason, the link to The Inquirer no longer seems to be working.  Here is the article’s text. The following appeared as “Wedded Bliss and After” in the May 25 2014 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer.


Thanks. updated draft.

Kelly McQuain
is an associate professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia

My partner John and I were strolling the French Market in New Orleans on Tuesday when the good news arrived courtesy of a barrage of Facebook updates:

Judge strikes down PA law banning same-sex marriage!

The hurrahs and woo-hoos that flooded our news feed were accompanied by snapshots of the LOVE statue and pictures of highway signs bearing the motto “Pennsylvania Welcomes You.”


To say John and I were taken by surprise is an understatement. Although we have been a gay couple in Philadelphia for nearly two decades, we assumed it would be years before the conservative areas of the state conceded this issue to the more progressive, larger-population areas. More than once in recent years John and I had considered moving across state lines to gay-friendly Collingswood, “the San Francisco of Southern Jersey” as my partner likes to refer to it, so we could reap the legal benefits of marriage there.

Now we don’t have to.

In his landmark ruling in Whitewood v. Wolf, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones declared that state laws banning same-sex marriage violate the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. His court joins 12 other federal district courts which, according to Jones, “have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage.” Despite declaring it violates his personal beliefs, Gov. Corbett has wisely decided not to waste tax dollars fighting Jones’ decision.

By the time our plane touched down in Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon, friends were posting photos of the marriage licenses they had obtained at City Hall, where the register of wills had immediately began issuing them. The rush was on!

While this decision opens new opportunities, it also raises new questions.

For gay people, those questions range from which partner gets down on bended knee to whether or not the ideological conventions of marriage should be embraced at all. For those open to the idea, gay marriage streamlines legal matters ranging from property rights to deathbed decisions.

In practical terms, the judge’s ruling strengthens the family my coworker Frank and his husband Mark have created with their adopted son. It offers potential stability for my friend Tim and his Colombian boyfriend, Daniel. As my longtime friend Center City-resident Laurie Fitzpatrick put it, “Yesterday Gloria and I were ‘partnered’ — a cold and corporate-sounding term — because those were the lengths we had to go to in order to get the same financial assurances of our heterosexual married friends. In two days we will be legally ‘married,’ which carries a connotations of lifelong devotion to each other, and the financial benefits we — as Americans — have a right to receive.”

For conservatives, I imagine some unease, perhaps even a sense of panic rising: The world they knew last week is not the same as today. I’m from a small town myself. What would I say to someone worried about this change? I’d say, forget sexuality for a moment and you’ll find we’re all pretty much alike. We have the same hopes, the same worries. (Can we afford our mortgage? How best can we care for our aging parents or our kids?)

I could add that Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage a decade ago, has not seen divorce rates skyrocket. I could enumerate marriage equality’s positive impact on everything from state economics to adoption.

I’d mention how we gay people, the same as our straight counterparts, look to marriage because we want to protect the ones we love. We want to feel safe, to know someone is beside us during good and bad — because those bad times are surely coming for us all.

I’d say too that, for many gay people, exercising this new right doesn’t come without risks. Our state still has no law barring discrimination against people simply because they are gay. Over half of Pennsylvanians live in areas where local governments allow discrimination based on sexual orientation, which means some gay couples could get fired from their jobs or evicted from their homes if they make their marriages public. Imagine how you’d feel putting in a vacation request for your honeymoon only to lose your job!

Most of all, I’d remind people of the slogan AIDS activists used as a clarion call in the most dire of the plague years: Silence = Death. It’s corollary, Ignorance = Fear, still rings true. I’d tell them that if they get to know their gay neighbors and relatives, they will see their fear of change diminish. It’s happened in my own family. By embracing my partner John, my relatives have managed to take baby steps toward embracing gay marriage.

“In future generations, the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage,” Judge Jones wrote.

It is important to remember that gays and lesbian will love and fight and make up or move on the same as they have always done. If there is gay marriage, we can expect there will be gay divorce. No single group can lay claim to wisdom or foolishness any more than they can lay claim to love. This full range of options means greater fairness.

Such changes are not for worse. They’re for better.

–Kelly McQuain


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