By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com August 31 2002 12:00 AM ET
A Pennsylvania court Thursday struck down a 1998 Philadelphia city ordinance that recognized same-sex "life partnerships," saying the law usurped the power of the state to regulate marriage. The law had amended the definition of the term "marital status" to include "life partner," thereby granting benefits to same-sex partners of city employees who signed a partnership affidavit.
"Obviously, we're thrilled by the decision and what it means for the institution of marriage in the city of Philadelphia," said lead plaintiff William Devlin, 50, director of the Urban Family Council, a far-right Philadelphia group that promotes marriage, abstinence education, and fatherhood initiatives. Officials with the mayor's office and the city solicitor's office did not return calls for comment on whether they planned to appeal.
"We hold that the city was without authority to legislate in the field of domestic relations by defining and creating a new marital status," senior judge Joseph Doyle wrote. Former mayor Edward G. Rendell, now the Democratic candidate for governor, signed off on the partnership bills in May 1998 after they were narrowly approved by the city council. A group of seven city taxpayers later sued, charging the city did not have the power to create a new marital status.
In its ruling, the commonwealth court panel gave summary judgment to the plaintiffs, overturning a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court ruling that had granted summary judgment to the city. "It could not be clearer that, by enacting the Marriage Law, as well as the Divorce Code, and by providing uniform laws in domestic relations throughout the state, the general assembly tacitly but thoroughly demonstrated its intent to preempt this field of legislation," the court said.
At a minimum, the decision affects the 120 people who have registered as domestic partners with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, a city agency. City employees who register can obtain the same benefits for their partners as married couples, while non-city workers can use the affidavit to seek domestic-partner benefits from their employers.