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Two weeks prior to the Deliberative Poll, participants received a booklet of background information. Prepared by an interdisciplinary team of scholars at Carnegie Mellon, this booklet incorporates input from historians, philosophers and theologians at several universities to provide a concise balanced representation of the issue.
This 36-page booklet is separated into two sections. In the first, participants get a review of marriage traditions and the history of marriage legislation in America. They also receive the religious perspective on marriage and homosexuality, which reflects the accepted views of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders.
Should the Constitution be amended so that marriage is defined as the union between a man and a woman?
Considerations in voting NO
• Civil rights
• Inclusive marriage laws will promote societal stability
Concerns about voting YES
• Family values
• Same-sex marriage will destabilize society.
Finally, they get a review of the social, medical and legal history of homosexuality in America. This last review traces the development of a perspective that argues for the need to secure the civil rights of homosexuals as one aspect of continued inclusiveness in America. In the second section of the booklet, participants learn how these histories and perspectives have informed the legislative and judicial debates in Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as the legislative debates over the Pennsylvania Marriage Protection Amendment.
At the end of the booklet, participants are provided with a visual representation of the legal debates -- an argument map -- to aid their deliberations. The map below is a composite of two separate and more detailed maps that are contained in the booklet.
In 1996, Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to pass similar laws. Currently, 41 states, including Pennsylvania, have such a law. Over the last decade, the supreme courts in several states, most notably Massachusetts, Vermont and California, have ruled DOMA laws unconstitutional.
As a result, the legislatures and voters in many states have considered passing a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only the union between a man and a woman. There have been two attempts to pass such an amendment in Pennsylvania, one in 2006 (HB 2381) and another in 2008 (SB 1250). To pass a constitutional amendment in Pennsylvania, a bill proposing the amendment must pass in two sessions of the General Assembly and it then must be presented to voters as a referendum on the ballot.
Neither of the bills introduced in Pennsylvania have made it through the first step -- passage in a session of the General Assembly. In 2006, separate versions of HB 2381 passed in the House and the Senate. The language in the two versions differed. The senate version did not exclude the possibility of legal recognition of marriage-like relationships.
The House and Senate never met to rectify the differences between the versions. In 2008, the sponsors of SB 1250 asked that the bill be tabled in the Senate because they believed that the House would not take action the bill.