INTERVIEW: Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims Talks DOMA, Gay Marriage, And Why Republicans Tried to Silence Him
Last week, State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the first openly-gay lawmaker elected to the Pennsylvania State Legislature, was silenced by Republican colleagues on the Pennsylvania House floor when he attempted to speak about the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on DOMA.
Queerty had an opportunity to interview the 34-year-old congressman (sadly, not in person) about being censored by Republicans, as well as his thoughts on marriage equality, and his current relationship status. (Good news, fellas: He’s single.)
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) was among the Republicans who silenced you last week, citing you were going to make an “open rebellion against God’s law.” Had he read your comments prior to you speaking? How did he know what you were going to say?
Not only had he not read my comments prior to me speaking, I hadn’t prepared any comments. I had told the Speaker of the House that I wanted to commemorate the historic nature of the Supreme Court cases, but [Rep. Metcalfe] didn’t even know that.
Is it safe to say Rep. Metcalfe jumped to conclusions?
Yes, it’s safe to say he jumped to conclusions.
How would you define “separation of church and state”? And do you feel Metcalfe and other conservatives respect those boundaries?
I would define the separation of church and state the way the Supreme Court has defined the separation of church and state and that is: that I live in a country that will not promote any religion above any other religion, and that will not treat me based on any one’s interpretation of any particular religion.
And no, I don’t think that a number of Republicans are respecting the separation of church and state. And I’ll tell you why it’s so frustrating to me: More often than not, you’ll hear Republican legislatures talking about the sanctity of the constitution. Well, it’s in that constitution where we find the separation of church and state.
Do you feel Metcalfe and other conservatives are motivated by bigotry or homophobia?
Here’s the thing: I can’t tell what’s in somebody’s heart or mind. But I can see their actions. I think Rep. Metcalfe has had ample opportunities to hear and see the impact of the legislation that he pushes. And see that the impact is one of hate and one of discrimination. And he still chooses to do it.
DOMA has been overturned. Gay marriage is now legal in 13 states. What are your thoughts on the future of LGBT rights in America?
Right now we’re seeing something that in public policy is awful, but in law is actually really helpful, and that’s chaos. There are states in this country where LGBT people, like me, have almost no rights at all. There are states where LGBT rights have full civil rights and now marriage.
I think what’s going to happen over the next three, four, five years, is we’re going to see a whole bunch of litigation. In state supreme courts, in federal courts, and ultimately in the high court. And it’s going to take the U.S. Supreme Court to help sort out this chaos.
And by every indication I’ve seen, when this Supreme Court chooses to address the larger issue of whether or not marriage equality should be the law of the entire land, I think it will do so in the affirmative.
You are the first openly gay lawmaker elected to your state legislature. Do you think that signifies a change in attitude among Pennsylvanians? Are people growing more accepting?
Most definitely. The surprise isn’t that I was elected. The surprise should be that it took so long. Pennsylvania, despite having a Republican Governor and a Republican General Assembly, is not a conservative state. Pennsylvanians poll very well on LGBT non-discrimination. And now we know that a majority of Pennsylvanians even support marriage equality.
You have said you are going to introduce measure in the state House allowing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. When do you hope to do that?
We just went on legislative recess. So for the next few months, Rep. Steve McCarter, the co-sponsor of this bill, and I are going to take the bill to the streets. We’re going to get out and meet with our other legislatures. And begin to build a co-sponsorship list. We get back into session at the end of September, and I would like to have this bill already introduced by the time we get back.
Do you think it can pass?
I am hopeful. How long it will take is the better question. Bills and legislation take time to percolate. They take time to get through the right committees. They take time to build the right support. My job is to make sure that time is as short as possible, and I am hopeful, I do honestly believe that a marriage equality bill could become law in Pennsylvania.
I have one final question that I have to ask or Queerty readers will never forgive me…
(Laughs.) Oh god, Graham… I’m single.