HARRISBURG -- There's still a long way to go, but advocates of traditional marriage between a man and a woman won a significant victory last night.
As the first step toward amending the state constitution, the state House voted 136-61 for a bill that would outlaw same-sex marriages and polygamous marriages in the Keystone State.
"This is a great victory for men, women and children in Pennsylvania," said a jubilant state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, a member of a five-person House team that wrote the Marriage Protection Amendment.
"It's an initial step to ensure that marriage between one man and one woman and our traditional families are protected," he said.
The vote on the controversial social policy measure, House Bill 2381, came after three hours of emotional debate. Opponents denounced it as discriminatory against same-sex couples and also nontraditional heterosexual couples, such as senior citizens who live together but aren't married.
"This is a sad day for Pennsylvania," said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill. "The proponents just want to attack nontraditional families. This bill could cause litigation out the wazoo -- court suits for years to come.
"I am stunned we are talking about this when so many issues of substance should be dealt with, such as the minimum wage, property taxes and the state budget."
The proposed constitutional change drew more Republican support than Democratic, but the split wasn't so much among political parties as it was along social lines, pitting rural, small town and conservative legislators against urban legislators.
Rep. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, opposed the measure, saying Massachusetts has suffered no harmful effects since it legalized same-sex marriages in 2004.
"What are the specific adverse effects you see from gay marriages?" Mr. Leach asked proponents. "The divorce rate in Massachusetts has gone down [since 2004]. We shouldn't write discrimination into the state constitution. You are just trying to restrict human rights."
Mr. Leach noted that laws in some states, especially in the South, once defined marriage as "between one man and one woman of the same race."
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down such racist miscegenation laws, he said, adding: "Who wants to go back to the ban on interracial marriage?"
But Rep. Scott Boyd, R-Lancaster, a main sponsor of the bill, contended that defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman "has been recognized by civilizations for thousands of years, by cultures all across the globe and by a majority of Pennsylvanians. What will the family look like in 30 years if we let the courts redefine marriage?"
"Children need moms and dads," agreed Rep. Tom Yewcic, D-Cambria. "To say that moms and dads -- male and female -- don't matter causes harm in their development. Having two fathers or two mothers is neither real nor plausible biologically."
But the bill still has a long way to go before it would take effect. It now goes to the state Senate, which proponents hope will act before the summer recess starts June 30.
Mr. Boyd said there is a constitutional requirement that voters must be given 90 days advance notice, for two years in a row, about any proposed change to the constitution. So, if the Senate doesn't act until the fall, the required notice couldn't be given by early August, as is mandatory.
But even if the Senate approves the measure by June 30, the House and Senate still must approve it a second time -- during the new legislative session that will start in January. If that happens next spring, the amendment could go to state voters for approval in November 2007.
Supporters include the American Family Association, Catholic Conference, Concerned Women for America and Pennsylvania Family Institute.
Institute President Michael Geer said constitutional amendments defining marriage as one man, one woman have been enacted in 19 states.
He said Pennsylvania should do the same, even though the state passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Similar one-man, one-woman laws are under attack in Virginia, Vermont and Washington state, he said.
"Activist judges" in some states, such as Massachusetts, have legalized same-sex marriages, he said, adding it would be much harder for judges to redefine marriage if it were contained in the state constitution.
Mr. Boyd said same-sex marriage isn't necessarily the end of the potential negative changes to traditional marriage. He said Newsweek magazine recently had an article about polygamists being next in line to seek legalization of their form of marriage. Other proponents of the bill said they feared group marriages of two or more men to two or more women.
But opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights in Philadelphia, said they were appalled by the House's action.
The ACLU's Larry Frankel said the Judiciary Committee should have held hearings on such a controversial measure.
Stacey L. Sobel of the Lesbian/Gay Center also said the Legislature was rushing too fast on a measure that "could take away the rights of thousands of Pennsylvanians."
She said it could damage an employer's domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, or health benefits, or pension benefits, rights to adoption and even protection from abuse in domestic violence cases.
"We don't know how broad this [constitutional change] will be," she said.
Republicans -- Yes
Brian Ellis of Butler; John Maher of Upper St. Clair; Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry; Mark Mustio of Moon; Jeff Pyle of Ford City; Jess Stairs of Mount Pleasant; Dick Stevenson of Grove City; Tom Stevenson of Mt. Lebanon; Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods.
Republicans -- No
Mike Diven of Brookline
Democrats -- Yes
H. William DeWeese of Waynesburg; Vince Biancucci of Aliquippa; James Casorio of Irwin; Peter Daley of California; Anthony DeLuca of Penn Hills; Shawn Flaherty of Fox Chapel; R. Ted Harhai of Monessen; Nick Kotik of Robinson; Victor Lescovitz of Midway; David Levdansky of Forward; Joseph Markosek of Monroeville; John Pallone of New Kensington; Joseph Petrarca of Vandergrift; Thomas Petrone of Crafton Heights; Sean Ramaley of Conway; Harry Readshaw of Carrick; Larry Roberts of Hopwood; Ken Ruffing of West Mifflin; James Shaner of Lemont Furnace; Thomas Tangretti of Greensburg.
Democrats -- No
Paul Costa of Wilkins; Frank Dermody of Oakmont; Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill; Marc J. Gergely of White Oak; Frank Pistella of Bloomfield; Joseph Preston of East Liberty; Tim Solobay of Canonsburg; Mike Veon of Beaver Falls; Don Walko of North Side; Jake Wheatley of the Hill District.
Frank LaGrotta, D-Ellwood City, was absent.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.