W.Pa. LGBTQ community, allies share hope, reservations about Respect Marriage Act

Steve Clark and Scott Smith from Scottdale traveled to Massachusetts in 2008 to get married.

Hempfield’s wives, Patricia and Kimberly Elliott-Rentler, married in 2016, after same-sex marriages were allowed in Pennsylvania.

They and others in the area’s LGBTQ community see the long-awaited passage of the federal law Law of Respect for Marriage as a positive step in protecting the marriage rights of same-sex couples. But they noted that the legislation that would be needed to provide a uniform right for such couples to marry anywhere in the United States is still a long way off.

“We were together for about six years before we got married and we had to wait for the country to catch up,” said Patricia Elliott-Rentler, a recently retired attorney. “We waited until both Pennsylvania and the United States legally recognized it.”

He received many calls from gay and lesbian clients last summer after the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion that had been established in Roe v. Wade. That decision stoked fears that a 2015 ruling supporting same-sex marriages in all 50 states could also be tampered with, and Judge Clarence Thomas said it should be reviewed.

“It was amazing how many people contacted me and wanted to update their wills” to ensure that their assets would pass to their surviving partner, regardless of any reversal in the legalities of the marriage, Elliott-Rentler said. “There was definitely a low-grade panic in the (LGBTQ) community, thinking, ‘Are we next?’ ”

The prospect of the court’s conservative majority overturning the 2015 ruling has led the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act. That law, which is expected to become law, would require that a same-sex marriage legally entered into in any US state be honored in the remaining states.

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The proposed law, which enjoys bipartisan support, is “certainly a big step forward,” Elliott-Rentler said. “I think it is reassuring a lot of people, at least for the foreseeable future.

“There is always a danger that the Supreme Court could send this back to the states, so it is a crucial step to protect our rights.”

The Respect Marriage Act would provide similar protection for marriage ties between people of different races or foreign ancestry, Elliott-Rentler said, noting, “I have interracial friends and couples in my neighborhood who are grateful for that.”


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Validation

“We have some friends who are planning to get married and we want to make sure they can get married and stay married,” Clark said.

He doesn’t want those friends to face the same additional challenges that he and his partner faced before they were able to get married.

“When we bought our house, before we got married, there were additional legal steps we had to take to make sure the surviving couple kept control of the house,” she said.

The Respect for Marriage Act, Clark believes, “provides not only protection but also validation of our marriage.”

Jean Slusser, president of the Greensburg chapter of PFLAG, an organization dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQ people and their families, sees the Respect Marriage Act as “a stopgap measure” should the ruling be overturned. 2015.

“I think everyone is a little scared that things will go the other way around,” he said. “There is so much hateful legislation that has been passed in this country. It’s a scary time.

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“We still feel that everyone has the right to marry whoever they want to marry.”

“There are many reasons to be afraid, but there are also many reasons to hope,” said Jim Galik, president of the Westmoreland LGBTQ Interfaith Network. He cited a 2021 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute indicating that 51% of Republicans support same-sex marriage, while Slusser noted a Gallup Poll May 2022 showing that 71% of all Americans feel the same way.

Supreme Court hears Colorado case

in a case that was argued on Mondaythe Supreme Court is weighing the issues of LGBTQ rights against religious freedom.

A graphic artist and website designer in Colorado says her Christian faith prevents her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages. Colorado has a public hosting law that says if you offer wedding websites to the public, you must provide them to all customers. The artist has argued that it is a violation of her right to freedom of expression.

Opponents say granting his appeal would open the door for various types of businesses to refuse to serve customers based on a range of discriminatory criteria.

C. Lee Hill Jr., a black gay man and president of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, said the artist’s argument makes him think of restrictions on “whites-only” public facilities that discriminated against the older generations of his family in the South.

“If you start down this path, where do you stop?” he said. “You’re saying, ‘Don’t go into my business, but I want the right to be in this public market.’

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“A devout Catholic might say, ‘We don’t want to serve Muslims or Protestants here.’ To me, that’s not America.”

Miller said he believes the Colorado artist “has every right to accept or reject any client. As a professional, I hope you will make a referral to another web designer who will take the job and provide excellent service.”

It acknowledged the problem of a “slippery slope” because “denial of services based on protected class status could escalate into chaos.”

Jeff Himler is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Jeff via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .