Proponents of same-sex marriage launched a campaign Wednesday to build public support for legalizing gay marriage in Pennsylvania -- the last holdout among the Northeast states.
News conferences trumpeting the Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania campaign, sponsored by the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, were held in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
"Pennsylvania's ban on marriages for same-sex couples is harmful and indefensible. We look forward to continuing our efforts to make sure that every Pennsylvanian will be free to marry the person he or she loves," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the state ACLU.
Evan Wolfson, who grew up in Pennsylvania and is the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said the campaign's goal is to encourage ``neighbor to neighbor'' conversations about why marriage is important to same-sex couples and their families.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto spoke at the events in their cities.
"Pennsylvania, like many states, is moving toward the freedom to marry as more and more citizens and officials recognize that discrimination is not the direction of progress," said Nutter, co-chairman of the national Mayors for the Freedom to Marry campaign.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently recognize same-sex marriage, including all nine Northeast states except Pennsylvania, whose law defines marriage as a civil contract between ``one man and one woman.'' The law also bans recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.
The campaign is being launched as a half-dozen lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania law progress through the federal and state courts.
A trial on the first and most sweeping lawsuit is scheduled to start June 9 in federal court in Harrisburg. The ACLU and the Philadelphia law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller filed the constitutional challenge on behalf of 25 plaintiffs, including a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters.
In another case, a county court clerk outside Philadelphia is appealing to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a state court's ruling that bars him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
D. Bruce Hanes, clerk of the Montgomery County Orphan's Court, had issued licenses to 174 same-sex couples before a Commonwealth Court judge ordered him to stop in September.