Monday, January 16, 2006

Pennsylvania lawmakers are planning to introduce a state constitutional marriage amendment next week, while traditional-values groups in at least three other states are pushing for similar measures this year.

The amendment is expected to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, prevent recognition of out-of-state same-sex “marriages” and prevent “automatic granting” of marital rights to unmarried couples, according to the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

Nearly 90 co-sponsors in the 203-seat House of Representatives have signed onto the marriage bill so far, Pennsylvania state Rep. Scott Boyd said yesterday.

Most of the co-sponsors are Republicans, but several Democrats have also signed on, said Michael Geer, president of the PFI, which supports the amendment.

Passing a constitutional amendment “is not done for light and transient reasons,” said Mr. Boyd, a Republican whose district includes Lancaster.

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments must pass both chambers in two successive legislative sessions before going to voters. Thus, 2007 is the earliest a public vote could be held, said Mr. Geer.

Stacey Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights in Philadelphia, said they are mobilizing to defeat the amendment, which they see as “writing discrimination” into the state constitution.

The amendment is unnecessary because Pennsylvania already has a Defense of Marriage Act that prevents same-sex couples from marrying, Miss Sobel said yesterday. Also, if the language is “overly broad and vague” like other marriage amendments, it could have unforeseen negative consequences on both traditional marriages and other family groups, she said.

Elsewhere in the nation, traditional-values groups in Idaho, Iowa and Minnesota are pushing for constitutional marriage amendments this legislative season.

Already four states — Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee — have amendment votes scheduled this year, with Alabama’s vote in June and the others in November.

In addition, lawmakers in Virginia and Wisconsin appear ready to pass amendments that will be on November 2006 ballots. Petition drives are also underway in Arizona, Florida and Illinois aimed at putting marriage amendments on this year’s ballots.

In California, one marriage amendment petition drive failed in December, while a second campaign is under way there.

To date, voters in 19 states have enacted constitutional amendments, which define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

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