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Pennsylvanians React to the Supreme Court Decision on the Defense of Marriage Act

John Colombo

Yesterday, Pittsburghers were ready to rally and/or riot Downtown in reaction the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision on the Defense of Marriage Act.  The gathering turned to celebration with the announcement that DOMA had been struck down. But it may be a while before we see what the decision will mean for the future of gay marriage in Pennsylvania.

Matt Bartko of Wilkinsburg recently had audiences cheering at Pridefest when he received a surprise marriage proposal from his long time partner, Maddy Landi. Bartko credited the national discussion on gay marriage for pushing his new fiance to finally pop the question.

"It got him thinking about whether or not he wanted to spend his life with me" Bartko said.

But now that DOMA has been overturned, Bartko also notes that a lot of work still needs to be done in Pennsylvania. 

Pittsburgh's Delta Foundation president Gary Van Horn echoed that sentiment but added the optimistic thought that the DOMA decision, though it's direct impact may be limited, will reinvigorate many of those who have been fighting for marriage equality in the state.

"We're gonna see people who can come out and be proud of who they are."

Still, Van Horn admits,  Pennsylvania's gay rights movement has its work cut out for it.

"We were a leader in Pennsylvania in the 1970s... We're now behind the times."

Making sense of the DOMA decision

When it comes to understanding the legal ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, most of the actual effects of the decision are a mystery.

According to University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Anthony Infanti, the Supreme Court overturn was done in a way that will fundamentally shift the control of marriage from the hands of the federal government into those of the states.

"For a couple hundred years we left it to the states to decide who was married, and we're going back to that," Infanti said, noting that this shift will complicate the marital status of gay couples should they move from one state to another. This will be especially true in Pennsylvania, where gay marriage has not been legalized.

"It's an open question," Infanti says. "There's no real answer on what happens when you have a couple that's married in Massachusetts, lived in Massachusetts, but then moves to Pennsylvania."

The narrow scope of the Court's ruling opens the doors for more legislative action and court challenges, which activists like Gary Van Horn are eager to keep pushing forward with. When asked whether same-sex couples should simply move away to states with more protections for them, he emphasized the need to fight for gains in the city of Pittsburgh and the state at large.

"This is Pittsburgh and this is our home."

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