A local lawmaker said this week that he plans to introduce legislation to ban same-sex marriage in the Pennsylvania Constitution.
During a May 19 press conference, Pennsylvania Sen. John Eichelberger (R-30th Dist.) announced he would spearhead an effort to amend the constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
A similar bill was introduced in the last legislative session in the Senate and died in committee last May after several senators introduced a series of amendments to derail the bill, and House leadership pledged to defeat it if it proceeded to that chamber.
Eichelberger, who represents parts of Blair, Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon and Mifflin counties in central Pennsylvania, was also a cosponsor of that bill.
Jason High, Eichelberger’s chief of staff, said the senator has not decided yet when he will actually introduce the legislation.
“We haven’t talked timing yet,” High said. “The Senate is not scheduled to be back in session until the first week of June, so sometime after that.”
A 2006 Pennsylvania law already defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, but in a statement this week, Eichelberger said he believes this law needs to be reinforced in the constitution to protect against possible judicial action.
“As more and more states begin to redefine marriage, it’s only a matter of time until a court decision usurps the citizens’ right to decide this for themselves,” Eichelberger said. “The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, admitted what many of us have known for a long time: that proponents of gay marriage are counting on a court decision to give them what they can’t win through the legislature or at the ballot box. Because this is a constitutional amendment, it would be put to the people for a vote, which is the proper way to decide what marriage is going to mean in this commonwealth.”
Steve Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said this legislation has another motive: halting the progression of House Bill 300, the nondiscrimination legislation currently in committee that seeks to prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations.
“The intention of our opponents is to distract representatives from the important issue of ending discrimination and bias against LGBT people and instead focus on an issue that has received wide attention nationally and is more controversial in nature in the state of Pennsylvania,” Glassman said.
Jake Kaskey, policy and outreach director at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, concurred, calling the impending legislation a “craven attempt” to distract the lawmakers from HB 300, as well as from other issues affecting Pennsylvanians.
“I’m really hoping that the legislature will choose to focus on what’s important, and what’s important is keeping Pennsylvania an economically viable state, and this only happens when we can protect all citizens in the workplace,” he said. “I believe that senators will understand that this is a distraction and decide to focus on issues Pennsylvanians care about, such as healthcare, education and protecting people from discrimination.”
Glassman said it’s still “very possible” that the legislation could see approval in the Senate, but he was dubious if it could progress further.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that it will pass in the House, where we’ve been assured by the leadership that such anti-LGBT amendments will not be well-received,” Glassman said.
In the last legislative session, Rep. Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.) vowed to kill the bill if it were to be sent to the House State Government Committee, which she chairs.
This week, Josephs again expressed her strong opposition to the legislation.
“With all the problems that people in this state have, I’m very, very disappointed that someone in the Senate thinks that it’s appropriate to try to suppress people’s rights. [The bill’s supporters] are so out of touch, completely wandering in the wilderness. I don’t know what’s wrong with them. I’m very disappointed in the Senate and in Eichelberger.”
Josephs said that, if the legislation were to come before her committee, while she gives every bill “the attention it deserves,” she’d be “hesitant to do anything with a bill that is so destructive, divisive, useless and counterproductive.”
In order for the constitution to be amended, the bill would need to pass in the same form in both the Senate and House in two consecutive sessions and then would be put to a public vote.
Andy Hoover, legislative director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, said LGBT and ally individuals should contact their representatives to ensure their voices are heard.
“People should still be active, they shouldn’t sit back and figure this is not going to pass. People in the state legislature need to know that there are people out there who care about this issue,” Hoover said.
Stacey Sobel, former executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, agreed that grassroots efforts could be the most effective in defeating this legislation.
“It’s important for legislators from around the state to hear from their constituents that fair-minded Pennsylvanians oppose this type of constitutional amendment,” she said. “Pennsylvanians want to get down to the real issues at hand, like economy and healthcare for families. This type of constitutional amendment at this time is a waste of taxpayers’ money and a waste of legislators’ time.”