I dialogued with Sue Frietsche of the Women's Law Project about the Metcalfe memo on “Marriage Amendment” 2011. Her take on it is cause for serious thought …
It's more radical than alternative versions because of the provision prohibiting
recognition of any "identical or substantially equivalent" legal union. So what
is a substantially equivalent legal union? Would it prohibit domestic partnership
benefits, second-parent adoptions, joint checking accounts, reciprocal powers of
attorney, or what? Because it's a proposed constitutional amendment, it speaks
in broad generalities, not the specifics of a statute or regulation. This version
failed last time because no one had any idea how it would affect all kinds of
Pennsylvanians: would it harm heterosexual unmarried couples who had some
equivalent legal structures in place to protect their interests short of marriage?
This is going to require a serious education component to shake folks out of their complacency about adoptions and POA's. I'm sure most people would be stunned to learn that an amendment that seems to be about “gay marriage” could impact the Power of Attorney documents for unmarried heterosexual couples. Advocates have to find a way to connect with people who aren't at the table but have a vested interest in these issues.
That message has to resonate as loudly as Senator “Gays Are Allowed to Exist” Eichelberger's infamous comments from last session.
There are slews of LGBTQ adoptive parents and every couple has a second parent adoption. That's hundreds of Allegheny County voters to be mobilized. I'm not 100% sure of the nuances of second parent adoption for heterosexual couples, but the POA issue could be devastating. People spend thousands getting those documents prepared along with other domestic partnership paperwork. What about people traveling through Pennsylvania? What if a LGBTQ couple with a child are involved in a car accident and the primary adoptive parent passes away? Would the Commonwealth be able to deem the second parent adoption null and void under the federal DOMA statute?
I guess the point is, as Sue points out, that we just don't know.
We do know that there are a lot of things to be addressed, things even Dems and Repubs can agree upon so it might be better to vest energy in those topics.
We also know that time is on our side. We have to fend off this amendment (year after year after year), but equality is on the horizon.
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