Our opinion: A tide that doesn’t ebb

Thirteen states in the northeast recognize same-sex marriages and/or civil unions.

Pennsylvania is not one of them.

Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, enacted by the General Assembly in 1996, is being challenged in a lawsuit that is likely destined to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our 1996 law defines marriage as a civil contract in which a man and a woman take each other as husband and wife. The state does also not allow civil unions or recognize same-sex marriages from other states that allow it.

The law is being challenged on constitutional grounds by a widow, 10 couples and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters. The group includes four couples who were legally married in other states but whose marriages are unrecognized by Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is charged with defending the constitutionality of state laws, announced that she could not ethically defend the state law since she is opposed to the ban and has made that clear in political statements leading up to her election as the state’s lead attorney.

Because the law allows the A.G. to hand off the defense to the governor’s office or other agencies if that is more efficient or in the state’s best interest, all eyes are on Gov. Tom Corbett, who is opposed to same-sex unions. As of Thursday afternoon, there was no word from Corbett’s office as to whether he would take on the challenge.

Because their relationships are not recognized by the state, those couples and the thousands of others they represent are not eligible for a number of benefits and programs administered by the state. That, they say, robs them of their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.

The evolution of equal rights has come a long way over a long time in America. From the Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent 13th Amendment, to the 14th Amendment and the 19th Amendment granting voting rights to women. It didn’t stop there; anti-miscegenation (inter-racial marriage) laws weren’t overturned until June 12, 1967, when the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia decision ruled them unconstitutional.

The time has come.

The tide of equal rights may be slow, but it is inexorable.

When the founders approved a document stating the belief that all men are created equal and naturally endowed with rights that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among others, we know and the courts know they weren’t just talking about white males, but all human beings.

Pennsylvania’s 1996 law is contrary to that belief and should be either struck down by the court or repealed.