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PA lawmakers Out-of-Touch on Gay Rights

A New York appellate court has unanimously ruled that being falsely labeled as a homosexual does not qualify as defamation per se.  The Court’s opinion stressed that previous rulings upholding the defamation label were based upon the false premise that it is shameful or disgraceful to be labeled gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Justice Thomas Mercure wrote “In light of the tremendous evolution in social attitudes regarding homosexuality . . . it cannot be said that current public opinion supports a rule that would equate statements imputing homosexuality with accusations of serious criminal conduct or insinuations that an individual has a loathsome disease.”

The New York Law Journal describes the details of the case in question thus:

[Yonaty v. Mincolla (pdf)] arose from Broome County, where Jean Mincola spread a rumor that Mark Yonaty was gay, apparently to cause a breakup with Yonaty’s longtime girlfriend. Mincolla allegedly told Ruthanne Koffman, a close family friend of the girlfriend, that Yonaty was homosexual. Koffman shared the information with the girlfriend’s mother, who told the girlfriend.

The case extends the reasoning expressed in Lawrence v. Texas, a US Supreme Court case upholding the right of homosexuals to engage in consensual sex.  The ruling also falls in line with New York’s recent legalization of marriage for same-sex couples.  As issues addressing sexual orientation increasingly come before the Courts, rulings such as the one in Yonaty will provide bellwethers for those attempting to anticipate where state Courts may fall on same-sex issues.  In turn, Courts will look to public opinion to shape their rulings and decisions.

To date, Pennsylvania has remained neutral on the issue, choosing to neither amend the State Constitution to allow nor deny same-sex couples the right to marriage or civil union.  Public opinion polling shows Pennsylvanians remain evenly divided on the issue with 35% believing there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship, but nearly as many, 33%, who believe that gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions.  Another 30% favor full marriage equality.  These numbers show that a majority of Pennsylvanians believes that same-sex couples should generally have the same rights as traditional married couples.

Most recently, a bill was introduced by State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) to limit marriage in Pennsylvania to only that between a man and a woman, however, in March of this year, a vote on that bill was stopped in Committee.  That little win for gay rights advocates shows “Pennsylvania is increasingly out of step with neighboring states, and out of touch with rising public support for same-sex couples’ rights,” said Ted Martin of Equality PA, a coalition of gay-rights groups.  He points to the coalition’s busy Harrisburg agenda: the gay-related protections that a state court stripped out of the hate-crimes law have never been reinstated; there is no nondiscrimination law to prevent employers from firing employees because they are gay; nor is there a gay-specific anti-bullying law similar to West Virginia’s.  Gay-rights advocates say they must play defense – they are too busy trying to block what they consider to be discriminatory bills to focus their energies on passage of a same-sex marriage law.

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