One York City pastor said he's been waiting for the day when same-sex couples can legally marry in Pennsylvania.
And that day might be closer, depending on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a case for which it is hearing arguments Wednesday.
"I have a hope that people who wish to marry and show their love and support for each other finally get a chance," said the Rev. Robert Renjilian of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York.
In its first major examination of gay rights in 10 years, justices heard arguments Tuesday on California's Proposition 8, the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban.
Justices will hear arguments Wednesday on the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
One legal expert said he believes justices will rule the 1996 act unconstitutional. It denies Social Security and other federal benefits to married same-sex couples. Then-President Bill Clinton signed the act into law, but has since spoken out against it.
"I think there's little chance DOMA will survive this case," said Michael
R. Dimino Sr., an associate professor of law at Widener's Harrisburg campus.
Effects: But even if the court rules the act unconstitutional, it won't mean gay marriage will be legal in Pennsylvania.
The state has its own Defense of Marriage Act, also signed into law in 1996, that prohibits issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the recognition of such marriages performed in other jurisdictions. The state does not, however, have an amendment to its constitution that disallows same-sex marriages.
The court could say each state is left to decide if same-sex marriages should be legal, but it could force states that don't allow such marriages to recognize ones performed in other states that allow the marriages. For example, "if it counts as a marriage in California, it can be a marriage anywhere else," Dimino said.
Prop 8: The court's decision on California's Proposition 8, if it renders one, won't be as far-reaching as its ruling on DOMA. Dimino said it would only affect that state.
However, a ruling that strikes down the law could have a domino effect in that residents in other states could be spurred to push for equal rights for same-sex couples, he added.
Polls have shown increasing support in the country for gay marriage. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in mid-March, 49 percent of Americans now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, with 44 percent opposed. A decade ago 58 percent opposed it and a third supported it.
Unions: Renjilian has performed a number of non-legally binding same-sex union ceremonies and said he'd like to someday perform same-sex marriages.
"Obviously we're already recognizing the marriage religiously," he said, adding he's hopeful the court will rule government shouldn't have a say in who should be allowed to marry.
"I'm hoping the Supreme Court (will recognize) just how much of a burden this places on one (same-sex) couple and not on a man and woman who are married," he said.
The Rev. Lawrence Cunnings of Christ Lutheran Church in Dallastown said the church won't marry a same-sex couple even if it becomes legal, but added it doesn't move to stop gays and lesbians from attending the church.
"We won't change a 2,000-year tradition based on what people say," he said.
Christ Lutheran parted ways with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2009 after delegates approved several ministry policies, including one that permits same-sex unions but does not require pastors to bless them. The church joined the more conservative Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.
The legal question of whether same-sex couples should be afforded equal rights is one to be left up to the law, Cunnings said, adding the church will continue to practice what it believes.
"We're just going to follow the same tradition," he said. "It's not a matter of gayness or heterosexualness. It's a matter of what you believe."
-- Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.