Gay rights cases before court inspire range of views locally

June 25th, 2015 1:40 am - updated: 1:40 am.

First Posted: 3/28/2013

Some in the Wyoming Valley say the fight for same-sex rights has become a battle for civil rights, a change in definition that might win recognition and benefits for gay couples.

“It’s basically the new civil rights movement, and people want to be on the right side of history,” Kyle Kreider, associate political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre said Thursday.

Others, including an area clergyman noting his church’s theology, say the issue is not at all the same. Either way, the issue evokes strong opinion.

Even if the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to sustain the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 — and Kreider said he believes it will be overturned — it is only a matter of time until all states recognize gay unions, whether in marriage or some other sort of civil union, he said.

Beth Hartman, of Mountain Top, has held a lasting relationship with her partner, Sharon Wall, for 16 years. She also is chairwoman of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, an advocacy organization for the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

She said that although some couples have gone to other states to get married, she wants her relationship to be recognized where she lives.

The two — separately — pay for car insurance, buy health insurance and file their taxes. She said these things, and nearly 1,300 other functions, are made easier for heterosexual married people through federal legislation.

The Supreme Court heard two cases this week regarding gay couples’ rights and recognition:

* A case involving Proposition 8, the California law that forbids gay marriage.

* The case of Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old gay woman who is fighting for recognition to avoid paying inheritance tax for the estate of her spouse, who died in 2007.

If Proposition 8 and DOMA are overturned, Kreider said, it does not immediately mean anything for Pennsylvanians. The state still restricts gay unions, and he said benefits that same-sex couples receive in spite of state laws would be few. However, he said, it would prove the general opinion about gay marriage has changed drastically in a short time.

In 1996, when DOMA was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, Kreider said no states allowed gay marriage. What started as a trickle has turned into a deluge of support for gay rights as a matter of civil justice, Kreider said.

Kreider agreed that this is one of the few things those from both political parties are supporting. What typically has been strictly a Democratic rallying cry is seeing strong support from some in the Republican Party. “Republicans are basically falling over each other to support this,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, gay people might not announce their orientation because they fear persecution, said Hartman, adding that no laws in this state protect gay people from losing their jobs because of orientation.

While segments of the nation seem to be leaning in favor of gay marriage, the Catholic Church will maintain its beliefs based on scripture. Even in the far-off future, the church will not abandon this doctrine, said the Rev. John Bendik of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Pittston.

“We, as a Catholic Church, surely could not participate in that sort of thing,” said Bendik. “It’s not our theology.”

The church defines marriage using the Biblical account of creation when God told man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and then looked at everything he created and called it good.

Bendik believes the gay-rights causes are not the same as civil rights fought for in the 1960s, he said.

“From my perspective, it’s different than civil rights for persons of color. It’s radically different,” said Bendik, referring to basic rights and respect black people sought, such as sharing space on a bus and drinking from the same water fountain as whites.

Conversely, the Rev. Daniel Gunn of the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, said some Biblical teachings are taken out of context. “If you take just one verse of scripture out and hold it up, you can basically make it say anything you want to,” Gunn said.

“I’ve known a number of same-sex couples who have been together for years, decades, and I see nothing that would prohibit them from being legally joined. In my case, there are many of them who I would be happy to join,” Gunn said. “How could I treat them any differently?”

Though Catholicism opposes such unions, Bendik said he cannot discriminate against the people. “I’m not one to condemn, but I’m also not one to condone.

“What we cannot condone is what can legally be called a marriage,” he said. “The Bible defines a marriage as man and woman.”

While these two Bible-based ideologies conflict, social media, TV and news outlets have helped to advance the discussion far enough to reach the high court, Kreider said.

“We realized there’s really no difference with them and heterosexuals,” he said. “It’s very hard to come up with convincing arguments as to why we do not allow gay people to marry.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.