HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania and New Jersey are on tracks that could lead to the Northeast being the first full region in the country to legalize gay marriage — but the routes are hardly parallel and the horsepower anything but equal.
A flurry of recent court decisions has gay couples in New Jersey, where same-sex marriage has long been debated, hurrying to make wedding plans for when they can legally marry starting Monday — even as a moderate Republican governor with apparent presidential aspirations awaits a decision on his appeal.
Across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, advocates are pecking away at a 1996 gay marriage ban by introducing bills in the Legislature, defiantly issuing marriage licenses in localities and taking the issue to court — with few people conceding the tactics will work anytime soon in a big state with a socially conservative spine.
“I don’t think it is going to happen next year. ... It’s going to take leadership from the top,” said state Rep. Mike Fleck, an openly gay Republican who represents a rural, conservative district in Huntingdon County, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains.
The different approaches — and levels of success — in the two neighboring states illustrate the many ways the effort to legalize same-sex marriage is playing out nationally in the months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of a federal law that restricted the rights of gay couples.
In recent weeks, at least eight county clerks in New Mexico have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples while state courts wrestle with the implications of the high court ruling. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, a suburban Philadelphia court clerk issued 174 licenses to gay couples before a state judge ordered him to stop.
Gay marriage bans are being contested in multiple states’ courts and legislatures, while others are more narrowly focused. A lesbian couple who legally wed in Massachusetts and moved to Pennsylvania have sued to have their marriage recognized in their new home state. A federal judge ordered Ohio to recognize the out-of-state marriages of two gay couples on Ohio death certificates. And Oregon officials have declared that the state will recognize same-sex marriages of couples who wed in other states or countries.