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Recent advances in the battle over same-sex marriage in Connecticut, California, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont led some commentators to describe this as a “watershed” moment. These legal and legislative wins - however tentative - created a sense of momentum in favor of lesbian and gay rights advocates in the battle over same-sex marriage. Yet, it would be a mistake to allow jubilation over these wins to obscure the larger perspective on this battle. We should not lose sight of the fact that, with the exception of Iowa, same-sex couples in each of these jurisdictions could already obtain legal recognition for their relationships by entering into a domestic partnership or a civil union even before these latest battles. In other words, couples in all of these states (except Iowa) were not fighting to obtain legal recognition for their relationships, but rather to extricate themselves from a second-class status by obtaining access to marriage.

It also should not be forgotten that most states do not legally recognize same-sex relationships at all. To obtain even a measure of legal recognition for their relationships, same-sex couples in these states must surmount difficult legal obstacles and sometimes cope with significant levels of legal uncertainty regarding their ultimate success. In this paper, I describe the legal obstacles and uncertainties currently faced by same-sex couples in Pennsylvania.

I first describe the (rather small) extent to which same-sex relationships currently benefit from express legal recognition in Pennsylvania. I then describe the alternative means that same-sex couples must employ to obtain a measure of legal and nonlegal recognition for their relationships. I next cover issues relating to the establishment and breakup of families. Finally, I describe a few miscellaneous, yet interesting recent cases relating to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania.