“What is marriage in the state of Pennsylvania?”Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage, asked this question at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on SB 1250 – the Pennsylvania Marriage Protection Amendment. Gallagher was the first of ten experts who testified both for and against the proposed amendment to the state constitution which would define marriage as the union between one man and one woman and prevent the recognition of “functional equivalent” relationships such as civil unions.
Identifying her own struggles as a young single mother, Ms. Gallagher explained why she got into the marriage debate 20 years ago. She described accusations that she was being hateful when she spoke out about the importance of marriage – not hateful of gay people, but single mothers.
“I watched as highly credentialed voices used early, preliminary social science data to prematurely declare the scientific debate was over, that science had proved all family forms were the same, and that there was nothing special or important about uniting mothers and fathers in lasting marriages,” she said.
“Many children suffered before at least some of those powerful cultural voices had second thoughts about whether all family forms are really equal, in terms of child-well-being or society, and therefore about whether only hate, bigotry and religious fanaticism explained those of us who sought to get and keep mothers and fathers together for their children.” Gallagher said the same thing is happening now in the debate about same-sex marriage.
The senators also heard testimony from attorneys regarding what is meant by prohibiting functionally equivalent relationships.
Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) attorney Richard Connell, Esq. said the term “functional equivalent of marriage” is in the bill because of a 2004 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case which upheld the City of Philadelphia’s practice of giving health benefits to the same-sex partners of some City employees. “Essentially, the Court said that the City could grant health benefits…and that the granting of such benefits and the creation of the life partnership status in the City was not the functional equivalent of marriage, a status covered by many state laws over which the City had no control.”
Mr. Connell reiterated that the language from this case was used to point to the precedent that health benefits can be extended, if an employer chooses to do so. He reiterated that the proposed marriage protection amendment does not take away any existing rights or benefits. He even quoted a statement found on the website of the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) that agrees with his assertion that marriage amendments “do not invalidate domestic partnership health or pension plans, or wills or property agreements.” (www.aclu.org/lgbt/relationships/12423res20041201.html)
Other proponents underscored that the amendment is not about benefits, but about the status of marriage and its unique benefit to the community. “(Marriage) has everything to do with a husband and wife creating and caring for a future generation,” said Dr. Bishop Janice Hollis, presiding prelate of Covenant International Fellowship of Churches, and Co-Chair of Philadelphia for Marriage Coalition. “If we allow marriage in Pennsylvania to be redefined, then men and women become optional in a family. Studies say a child’s development is hindered when they are denied their mothers or fathers. Beyond companionship, marriage was meant for pro-creation as well; to allow same sex marriage would undermine God’s original plan and design for the furtherance of the human race.”
Opponents to the marriage amendment were equally vocal with their views. Several attorneys and other gay advocates disagreed about the need for the amendment and its perceived impact. But there was one statement from Stacey Sobel, Executive Director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, formerly the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, on which everyone agrees, “Our constitution and rights are too precious to take lightly.”
The lengthy hearing was followed the next day with a 10-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of SB 1250. The bill will be considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee before a vote can be scheduled for the Senate floor. Another hearing will be scheduled. The House of Representatives must also pass the bill to complete the first step in the lengthy process of amending the state constitution. The measure must pass a second time in the next legislative session before going on the ballot for voter referendum.
PCC Column EXTRA March 2008 by A. B. Hill, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.