Eric Miller is hoping Pittsburgh steps into the gay-marriage fray.
Miller, 34, who lives in the North Side, late last month helped found the Pennsylvania chapter of Marriage Equality, one of only four state chapters of this advocacy group nationwide. Nearly their first act was to write to Mayor Tom Murphy and county Chief Executive Dan Onorato, trying to enlist their support for gay unions.
Although the two leaders have no legal power to make same-sex marriages official -- the state controls marriage laws, and the legislature outlawed gay marriage in 1996 -- Miller says they can "make it an issue. Mayors in other cities have taken more of a lead in advocating" for legalizing gay unions, offering at least a "psychological benefit." In Pennsylvania, the only such move came from the council of tiny New Hope, just north of Philadelphia, which passed a resolution in support of gay marriage.
Miller has run the Discover Pittsburgh Web site for the past four years as a way for newcomers and prospective residents to learn about the city through one-on-one contacts. He is currently remodeling several local houses for resale.
Living formerly in San Francisco with a domestic partner for 11 years, he says, they were able to register as partners with both the city and the state of California. One of the many benefits: He was allowed to visit his partner in city hospital emergency rooms, which are often restricted to "immediate family" otherwise.
There are myriad other tangible benefits to legal gay marriages, Miller says: "To be on your partner's medical coverage. To be the inheritor. Tax issues. Access to military benefits. Social Security survivor benefits ..." Marriage Equality PA is studying whether and how to team with older groups like the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition and Pennsylvania Freedom to Marry Coalition, which have been lobbying Harrisburg about the issue for years.
Wayne County Republican state Rep. Jerry Birmelin is pledging to reintroduce legislation later this year to prevent the state from recognizing gay marriage (even though it would be redundant with the 1996 law), to rescind the rights of gays to adopt and to keep the state from doing business with any firm that offers benefits to its employees' domestic partners. Is Miller afraid that Pennsylvania is just too conservative a state for gay marriage to fly?
"It does seem that way to me. You can't even buy beer in a Uni-Mart."