On the Right Side of History: October 1, 1996

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Rainbow Flag

A rainbow flag is raised outside of city hall in Philadelphia. (credit: Ben Bowens)

At the suggestion of a colleague, I pulled up the General Assembly’s archives to look at the votes and the journals from the legislature’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

After the events of the past week, it was quite a read. The state Senate passed DOMA on October 1, 1996, by a vote of 43-5. The five no votes are all names that are familiar to Pennsylvania politicos- Democrats Vincent Hughes, who is now the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Vincent Fumo, who retired several years ago after legal troubles; Hardy Williams, who passed in 2010 and whose son, Anthony, now serves in the Senate; Allyson Schwartz, who serves in Congress and ran for governor this year; and Republican Dave Heckler, who later became a judge and is now the district attorney of Bucks County.

Reading the floor debate, which is available here, is fascinating. Here are some choice quotes:

“Our country was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. It is our responsibility, in fact our obligation, as elected officials to assure a society that prohibits discrimination against any class of people. It is wrong to express words of tolerance and to condemn bigotry only when it is easy and safe, only when it is in the abstract. Well, today we are faced with a choice to condemn discrimination, to end a minority group’s isolation, and to build understanding. It should not be so hard. And I ask each of my colleagues not to waste this opportunity and instead to stand up for understanding, to stand up for acceptance, to stand up for fairness, and to vote against…this legislation.”
— Senator Allyson Schwartz

 

“I am of the belief that government has no place in the bedroom, and I do not know why we have to rush to judgment on this issue right now. I recognize it as an inflammatory issue, it is one that drives some people crazy, but my plea is that these people are human beings, too, and have the right to their beliefs and the exercise of their beliefs the same as the majority of people do. They present no threat to society. In fact, they complement society and assist society by being honest, law-abiding individuals.

 

“…I do not kid myself. I know the vote today will probably be overwhelming, the same way the vote in a southern legislature years ago would have been overwhelming in discriminating against black minorities. That does not make the vote right. It is still wrong. It is no business of ours to interfere in the lives of others, in the most private and intimate way, and it is shameful that we are doing this(.)”
–Senator Vincent Fumo

Six days later, on October 7, the House passed the bill with just 13 members voting no. We’ll have a follow up post to recognize those representatives.

On October 16, Governor Ridge signed the bill and it became Act 124 of 1996.

And on May 20, 2014, Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act was swept into the ash heap of history.