There’s been some furor lately in the electoral race for an East End magisterial judge seat. Incumbent Judge Dan Butler is under scrutiny for not performing marriages – he doesn’t perform any marriages. The tricky part is that he belongs to a socially conservative Jewish congregation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. So while he’s being consistent in not performing marriages at all, that’s a dicey way to get around the same-sex marriage issue.
This takes on added complexity for me in the Mayoral race – John Welch is an ordained minister who has yet to make public commitments on performing same-sex marriages if he were to be elected Mayor. Welch has deftly avoided the matter of his personal views on queer and trans identity by falling back on the fact that he hasn’t openly discriminated against queer students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. (Hint: you don’t get bonus points for NOT discriminating) He blamed Steel City Stonewall for not giving him enough time to complete their Q&A. He hasn’t answered my questions. He’s evasive at best and it is a tremendous disservice to the good-intentioned progressives who like his views on affordable housing and lifting up people in poverty. Queer and trans people need housing and often live in poverty, FYI.
Does it matter if these men won’t perform any marriages at all?
First, for a magistrate judge, it is their job. They are the go to place for people who need to be married. I’m fine with a judge setting constraints on their time – boundaries are healthy – but there’s no reason a couple that can be there at 2 PM on a Tuesday shouldn’t be able to access a basic service tied to the judge. If Judge Butler can’t fulfill this job duty, he should pursue another career. He’s hurting people and that’s unacceptable. His deflection tactics are just a step below clerks of court refusing to process marriage licenses. Citizens should be able to access services, not figure out which magistrate does what anymore than they should have to plan a to apply for a marriage license on a day when a certain person works.
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He may not be thinking about the challenges people face when organizing a same-sex wedding. I receive dozens of requests for celebrants who are LGBTQ affirming. It’s always been helpful to suggest the district magistrate. I’m a little annoyed that this hasn’t been a good recommendation. Dan Butler is not fulfilling his duties by refusing to perform marriages. Period. And that means he shouldn’t hold the position. In his case, it is a moral failing to avoid this task.
Second, the mayoral marriages are more symbolic. Certainly, Pittsburgh’s Mayor should not be booking marriages on a regular basis, but it is an important symbolic task. It matters that the leader of a municipality will officiate over all legal marriages. The advancement of marriage equality has been tied to Mayors – Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, Jason West in New Paltz, New York and our own John Fetterman here in Braddock just as a few examples. Their support and the risks they took to stand with the LGBTQ community were part of the story.
More importantly, it matters if John Welch thinks we are sinful by nature because of our LGBTQ identities. He won’t answer that question, either.
I don’t understand why Pittsburgh wants to elect Democrats who are not openly LGBTQ affirming. I suspect it is because we haven’t wrestled with the realities of “socially conservative Democrats” in a region where anti-choice legislators tend to carry the day. Marriage equality is far from the best barometer of affirming our community, but in the case of a magistrate judge and a Mayor – it is a great indicator.
How can we trust Welch to ensure LGBTQ inclusion in housing reforms or public safety efforts if he can’t perform a basic job function?
Democrats should not even consider voting for candidates who are any less than pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ, even if Bernie Sanders says otherwise. He’s not a Democrat. Maybe the fact is that some of you aren’t either, but you aren’t willing to say so?
The truth is that while marriage equality is the law of the land, we are far from a time when all can access true equality via marriage. For too many folks, the public record of their relationship exposes them to genuine risk of losing a job or being denied housing or even service at a local hobby/craft store. That’s true in Pennsylvania where we lack statewide non-discrimination practices in large part due to Democrats who have not had our backs over the years. It is true for people who have to pay exorbitant housing fees, deal with the fallout of gentrification, etc, etc, etc rather than pay for an attorney to help them enter a marriage.
And it is true now. I understand that there is frustration with the Peduto Administration, none of which is helped by the refusal of people to hold him accountable or critique his work. But throwing the LGBTQ community under the bus to achieve progress on other issues is counterproductive and disingenuous for progressives. We can do better. We can hold Bill Peduto to his word and elect members of Council who will be their own person, but willing to be a constructive part of forward movement.
The days of telling us that being tolerated by people of faith is an acceptable stasis are long done. Or at least they should be. If you cannot hold all of your citizenry in regard and respect, you should not run for office. You should do something else.
We all deserve better than that.
UPDATED: I corrected the title to read “Does it Matter” rather than “Does is Matter.”