For the first time in a number of years, a measure that seeks to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex unions has surfaced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th Dist.) introduced HB 1434, the so-called Marriage Protection Amendment, May 2 along with 35 cosponsors. A version of the bill was introduced in the past two sessions in the Senate but not the House.
It is unclear if a companion bill is planned for the Senate.
Metcalfe did not return a call for comment but said in a statement that “the institution of marriage has never been under greater attack,” referencing the Obama administration’s recent decision to stop defending the federal ban on same-sex marriage in court.
Pennsylvania has had its own statute banning same-sex marriage on the books since 1996, but Metcalfe’s bill would write the same language into the constitution to add another obstacle for LGBT advocates to overcome.
The bill was last seen in the House in 2006, when it was approved. Although the measure gained Senate approval that year, it did not move forward because the bills differed.
Metcalfe’s measure would define marriage in the state constitution as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”
The measure would need to be approved by both chambers of the legislature in two consecutive sessions and would then be put to voters, where it would need to garner a majority of votes to be ratified.
Metcalfe was a cosponsor of the 2006 version of the measure, which had 87 cosponsors at the time of its passage.
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission chair Stephen Glassman said it’s too early in the process, especially with the budget deadline looming next month, to speculate on how much support the bill will see.
“It remains to be seen how interested the House is in wasting its time in passing divisive, punishing legislation when they ought to be focused on our economy, the production of jobs, appropriately funding education and responding to the needs of people who have been marginalized in many different ways,” Glassman said. “This will reveal the true social agenda of those who claim conservative values that are intended to keep government out of people’s personal lives.”
The bill was spearheaded in 2008 and 2010 by Sens. Michael Brubaker (R-36th Dist.) and John Eichelberger (R-30th Dist.), respectively. Both bills died in committee.
A spokesperson for Brubaker said she didn’t believe the senator would spearhead the Senate version, although she had not discussed the issue with him, and a spokesperson for Eichelberger said the senator is not going to reintroduce the bill this session.
The bill failed to surface in the House the past two sessions after ally lawmakers made it clear that it would be sent to the State Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.).
With Republicans now in control of the House, Metcalfe is now chair of that committee. It is unclear which committee the bill will be assigned to.
“We’ve gone from Babette Josephs, who is a great friend of the LGBT community, to Daryl Metcalfe, who opposes LGBT equality, and that difference is resulting in this kind of legislative change,” Glassman said.
Metcalfe’s cosponsor list is comprised entirely of Republicans with the exception of Democrat Ted Harhai (58th Dist.).
Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, said it was difficult to predict whether the Republican shift in power will spell success for the measure this session.
“I think it will likely get a hearing, but I don’t know if it’ll be approved, although the people who are supportive of it are in power right now,” he said. “But the bottom line is, people need to be aware that this is a real issue. It’s moving ahead in North Carolina, it’s moving ahead in Minnesota, and look what happened in Maryland [which rejected a marriage-equality bill]. Anything could happen.”
Glassman said the LGBT and ally community needs to invest its full energy in opposing Metcalfe’s measure.
“Every individual should contact their legislators and tell them to focus their attention on jobs and improving our economy in Pennsylvania, not wasting time on wrongheaded and divisive legislation intended to actively discriminate against one group of people in the commonwealth,” he said.
Martin agreed that Pennsylvanians should “repeatedly call their representatives, e-mail them, visit their offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg or elsewhere in the state and tell them they need to stick to the real issues that they were sent there to deal with, not issues like this that don’t impact the real issues our state is dealing with.”
Among the cosponsoring legislators are Chester County Republican Reps. Steve Barrar (10th Dist.), John Lawrence (13th Dist.) and Curt Schroder (155th Dist.), as well as Bucks County Republican Rep. Paul Clymer (145th Dist.).
The remaining cosponsors are Harhai and Republican Reps. Scott Boyd (43rd Dist), Michele Brooks (17th Dist.), Martin Causer (67th Dist.), Jim Christiana (15th Dist.), Jim Cox (129th Dist.), Tom Creighton (37th Dist.), Matt Gabler (75th Dist.), Mark Gillen (128th Dist.), Doyle Heffley (122nd Dist.), Dick Hess (78th Dist.), David Hickernell (98th Dist.), Rob Kaufmann (89th Dist.), Fred Keller (85th Dist.), Mark Keller (86th Dist.), Jerry Knowles (124th Dist.), Tim Krieger (57th Dist.), Carl Walker Metzgar (69th Dist.), David Millard (109th Dist.), Mark Mustio (44th Dist.), Donna Oberlander (63rd Dist.), Jeff Pyle (60th Dist.), Kathy Rapp (65th Dist.), Mike Reese (59th Dist.), Brad Roae (Sixth Dist.), Rick Saccone (39th Dist.), Jerry Stern (80th Dist.), Dick Stevenson (8th Dist.), RoseMarie Swanger (102nd Dist.), Will Tallman (193rd Dist.) and Randy Vulakovich (30th Dist.).