HARRISBURG -- A bill that would amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage is in a deep coma and is probably dead, at least for the rest of this session.
Faced with staunch opposition to the measure in the Democrat-controlled House, the main sponsor, Sen. Michael Brubaker, R-Lancaster, asked the Senate last evening to table the bill indefinitely, and it agreed.
That almost certainly means it won't be acted on in the 2007-08 session, which ends Nov. 30. Mr. Brubaker said he's not giving up on the bill, though he didn't say when he might push for it again.
The bill would have amended the constitution to define a legal marriage in Pennsylvania as a union only of one man and one woman. Pennsylvania already has a law doing that, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, but some religious groups and social conservatives want to put the one man-one woman definition into the constitution, to make it stronger and prevent "liberal judges" from allowing gays or lesbians to try to get married or to join in "civil unions," as they can in several other states.
Mr. Brubaker, a freshman senator, "has worked hard and diligently on this very difficult issue," said Sen. Michael Waugh, R-York, a co-sponsor of the bill. "He has brought it along and contributed to its progress, but I support the move to table. It's the most prudent action under the circumstances."
The chances that Senate Bill 1250 might have passed the Senate were good, since it's controlled by Republicans 29 to 21. The measure just passed the Senate Appropriations Committee 18-8 on Monday, and had also passed in the Judiciary Committee.
But Mr. Brubaker said last evening he'd learned the bill, if it did get through the Senate, would be sent to the House State Government Committee, where it likely wouldn't be acted on anytime soon. That panel is chaired by Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, who strongly opposed putting a ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution. Democrats control the House by a slim margin of 102-101.
Ms. Josephs was one of the speakers at a loud rally Monday in the Capitol rotunda, where Senate Bill 1250 was denounced as "discriminatory, disgraceful, morally wrong and unnecessary."
Mr. Brubaker denied those claims and said his bill was not a biased attack on gays and lesbians. He said that all the bill did was to make it clear that Pennsylvania believed that the only type of marriage that would be publicly and legally recognized was the joining of one man and one woman.
To amend the constitution, a bill must be approved in two different sessions of the Legislature and then be approved in a statewide referendum. Mr. Brubaker said that if state voters didn't like his bill, they could vote it down in the referendum, but he said they deserve a chance to vote.
He said that if Pennsylvania is going to change the definition of marriage, to include such things as the union of two women or two men, "It should be (done by) the people of Pennsylvania, not the courts."
He said he hopes House members eventually will decide "that they desire a healthy, productive, civil debate" on the bill.
He said the bill isn't bigoted, as some critics have charged.
"Marriage between one man and one woman is what we've had for the history of our commonwealth," he said.
"I have a healthy respect for the homosexual community. I have a healthy respect for heterosexuals. I have a deep respect for the institution of marriage. I am standing for marriage. I am not standing against any individual sector of our society."
Senators had been facing a long evening, with as many as 14 amendments to the bill ready for debate.
One of them was by Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, an outspoken opponent of the bill. He said that if the intent of the bill was to "protect the sanctity of the marital institution," then divorce should be outlawed, except in a few cases where one spouse was physically violent to the other, deserted the other or where one spouse was a bigamist.
Because Republicans control the Senate, there is virtually no chance that Mr. Fumo's radical amendment would ever pass. But it would have given Mr. Fumo a chance to rail against the bill for, as he put it, "taking away the rights of some citizens based on their sexual orientation."
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254.