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As of May 20th, same-sex marriage is legal in Pennsylvania, making the Keystone State the 19th State within the United States to legalize the act. Federal judge, John E. Jones III, overturned the ban and admired the courage of same-sex couples who fight for their right to express their love as heterosexual couples do. Jones declared that Pennsylvania is a state which will not acknowledge a ban on same-sex marriage because those who make up the state are better than that discrimination. Many people, legislature and citizens included, are not for lifting the same-sex marriage bans, instead giving partial rights under civil unions or domestic partnerships. Despite the push-back, same-sex marriage legalization is sweeping the nation.
Many states, including Texas, Arkansas and Utah have found ruling against same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. There are also states which recognize same-sex marriages legalized in other states, allowing couples to have the same rights that they enjoy in their home states. Most states which have an active same-sex marriage ban have been challenged by citizens seeking marriage rights by way of lawsuits and peaceful protest. The only state which has not had its same-sex marriage ban challenged is North Dakota.
The legalization of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania means same-sex couples now have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. If a state does not recognize same-sex marriage, often times it will instate other protections for same-sex couples, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. These legally recognized statuses often offer only a fraction of the benefits that heterosexual marriages offer. Pennsylvania’s ruling is opposed by 31 states which do not recognize same-sex marriage, though many offer civil union or domestic partnership protection.
Though it varies from state to state, the main definition of a civil union is a legally recognized relationship, between a same-sex or an opposite-sex couple, which offers most of the same benefits as marriage. Some states, such as Illinois, offer the exact same protections, obligations and responsibilities as marriage through civil unions. For example, in Illinois couples in a civil union arrangement are allowed to own property together and hold jurisdiction if one of the two individuals happened to be hospitalized. The first state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples was Vermont, which was also the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Legal marriages offer 1,100 protections to couples, and these protections often represent a fraction of what a civil union would offer. Civil unions recognized in a state do not offer federal protections, as a marriage would, nor are they recognized in every state if the couple moves or travels.
A domestic partnership is cohabitation between two people who are not spouses. Very similar to a civil union, many states have domestic partnership protections which include benefits seen in basic civil union arrangements. Federal protection is not guaranteed, nor are other states entitled to honor domestic partnership arrangements issued in another state.
In Pennsylvania, as well as the 18 other states that have given marriage rights to same-sex couples, federal protection is granted to married couples. Same-sex couples who wish to get married are now treated no differently than married heterosexual couples. With growing acceptance of same-sex couples, Pennsylvania probably will not be the last state to legalize same-sex marriage.
By Courtney Heitter