The September 16th episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” was entitled “Mac Fights Gay Marriage.” This is a comedy set in Philadelpia, PA that depicts the lives of several friends that work together at an Irish bar called “Paddy’s Pub” The characters are: Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Frank (Danny DeVito). The humor of this show comes from the ridiculous nature of the characters’ relationships with one another and this episode was no different. This episode centers on the subject of gay marriage and starts out discussing the same sex marriage of 2 men, one named Carmen who had just undergone a transgender surgery to become female. In the episode, Mac tries to convince his friends that same-sex marriage is wrong. However, Mac’s discussion of marriage only gives Frank and Charlie the idea to apply for a “domestic partnership.” Frank and Charlie want to enter into this partnership because they want to have the right to make decisions concerning the other person’s medical care. Specifically, Frank wants Charlie to have the right to decide when to “pull the plug” if he is ever put on life support. The topic of marriage and same-sex unions is meant to be humorous for purposes of this show. However, it does raise serious issues regarding same-sex marriages. In the episode, the marriage between the sexually re-assigned Carmen and the other man may not be legally valid. There is also the issue of whether Frank and Charlie can legally apply for a same-sex domestic partnership.

The issue of whether same-sex couples should be able to marry or enter into domestic partnerships has been controversial over recent years, especially with the development of sexual reassignment surgery. In the 1990s, states began enacting “defense of marriage acts” (DOMAs).The purpose of the DOMAs is to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and provide that the state will not recognize such marriages performed in other states. The U.S. government has a DOMA that provides for the purpose of federal laws and regulations: “‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Same-sex marriages are prohibited by 23 PA C.S.A. 1704 in the state of Pennsylvania. This episode raises the issue of determining what gender is legally considered for purposes of marriage. The option to have your gender reassigned through surgery exists and courts need decide on whether to consider someone’s new gender for purposes of marriage. Only a small number of state courts have ruled on the validity of a marriage after reassignment surgery. In 2002, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the marriage between a male-to-female transsexual and her husband was invalid, even though she had undergone sex-reassignment many years prior to the marriage. An appellate court in Texas reached the same result, invalidating a marriage between a transsexual woman and her husband on the ground that one’s legal gender is fixed at birth. Since the issue of gender reassignment remains undecided under Pennsylvania law, it cannot be determined whether Carmen should be classified as female or male for purposes of marriage.

In this episode, Frank and Charlie live together and seek to enter into a domestic partnership. These characters are not in a romantic relationship but they want to have legal rights over one another, similar to the rights spouses have in a marriage. The State of Pennsylvania has defined marriage and declared it as a “strong and longstanding public policy of this Commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman.” Under current state law, these two men could not enter into a valid marriage.

However, recent trends in the United States show that the general population is gradually increasing support for the right of same-sex individuals to marry or enter into civil unions. A CBS News poll conducted in August 2010 is proof of this trend.  The poll asked the question: “Which comes closest to your view? Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry. OR, Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry. OR, There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.” The results show that 40% felt gay couples should be allowed to marry, 30% answered yes to civil unions, 25% said they should not be legally recognized, and the remaining 5% said they were unsure. As the percentage rises towards the right of same-sex couples to marry, it is likely that state legislatures will begin to re-evaluate their stance on the issue.