Spring awakening brings all sorts of things back to life and without fail one of those "things" is the unquenchable desire of assorted Pennsylvania Republicans to amend the Constitution of our fine commonwealth with a clear definition of marriage.
The short-story: the current legislation (PA HB1434) was *not* voted on Tuesday in the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee. It is not officially "dead" but it appears we dodged a bullet thanks to the bill's sponsor having an ever greater need to amend our voting laws. (Lord, help us all.)
State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) hails from Western PA (about an hour north of Pittsburgh give or take) and chairs this somewhat powerful committee. He pretty much hates everyone - gays, gun control folks, poor people, women, people of color, women, women, women. You get the point. Right now he is simultaneously trying to force through legislation that would forbid municipalities - such as Philadelphia - from enacting tighter gun control laws that the Commonwealth as a whole. This is about a stolen gun reporting requirement that Philly enacted to address what you might expect is a serious issue with gun violence. I can't quite understand the logic of an alleged "small government/tough on crime" person being opposed to this approach to crime control, but hey - what do I know?
Back to simultaneously (Metcalfe makes me a little ranty.) He's also pushing the Voter ID law to address the rampant fraudulent voting among poor people. It doesn't matter that the courts have overturned these laws. Go Pennsylvania!
Metcalfe's current version of a "marriage amendment" is pretty harsh - no civil unions and no domestic partnerships. Oh, wait - is that another example of the state government telling the local government to whom they may and may not extend benefits? How very totalitarian of us.
The history of these amendments in Pennsylvania is sordid for both parties. One year almost every Democrat in the House voted in favor of it, then the Senate Dems "rescued" us by passing a really extreme version that everyone knew could never get through the House. Because rescuing us by voting against us is a good thing... At least that's what they tell me when I ask.
Another stellar moment in this legislative dance was in the live radio comment made by State Senator John Eichelberger while debating (defending) his proposal to amend the Constitution in 2009 (emphasis mine):
Leach: Should our only policy towards [same-sex] couples be one of punishment, to somehow prove that they've done something wrong?
Eichelberger: They're not being punished. We're allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do. We're just not rewarding them with any special designation.
You probably remember "exist-gate" ... for a long, long time that and Renee Portland (former PSU women's basketball coach and notorious homophobe) were the top "things about Pennsylvania" that people researched on my blog.
Metcalfe introduced his legislation at the beginning of the current session (spring 2011) and it languished. When rumors of a vote began spreading last week, the LGBT communities and our allies leapt into action with petitions, e-blasts and tweets. A longtime ally and current minority chair of this committee, Representative Babette Josephs issued a statement about her intent to fight this off and refocus on economic development, etc.
So I wasn't too worried because support for this effort has been dwindling, but I wasn't taking anything for granted. Pennsylvania has had a record number of "LGBT positive" bills introduced this session - marriage equality, bullying, hate crimes, sex ed, and anti-discrimination. None have gone very far, but they exist (like us gays!) so that's something. On the other hand, we have the nascent rise of the Pennsylvania Family Institute's "Ignite" campaign as I outlined in great detail a year ago. The fact that more than one gay person I know still patronizes Chick-Fil-A here in Pittsburgh in spite of the financial ties to PFI and Co makes me worry a little bit. Some of my Christian friends think I made these numbers up in my own head.
It is like a ping pong game. I need to check my notes quite a bit to make sure I keep the lampoonish event tied to proper year's vote on this issue. I am sad that blatant racism deflects attention from blatant homophobia. That's not quite the step forward I'd like my home state to take, but I am grateful that we continue to make some progress.
The biggest challenge for the LGBT community is to forge stronger alliances with our natural partners in these endeavors. Labor should be turning out in full force about legislation that would strip public sector unions of their collective bargained right to offer domestic partner benefits. LGBT persons who identify as "pro-life" need to really think about the legal reasoning connecting abortions and privacy and sexual activity and mandatory ultrasounds and employer-provided birth control. We all need to realize that if Rep Metcalfe succeeds in strangling the rights of local governments to address gun violence, it might not be a big leap to a law similar to Tennessee's refusal to allow municipalities to extend discrimination protections to classes beyond those covered by state law.
In Tennessee, I believe that was one - Nashville? In Pennsylvania, we have 27 and counting municipalities protecting the LGBT community in employment, housing and public accommodation. I don't think that would stop him from trying. So I don't think we can afford to sit on our heels and observe.
So, yes, we dodged a bullet. It probably is gone for the session so breathing easier in this regard is understandable, but we just have to start connecting the dots with these other issues and helping people to understand or we are going to continually expend energy - March after March - fighting back this issue. So much could go against us - Santorum could rally the troops during the primary, the Voter ID bill can pass, the redistricting nightmare on both state and federal levels, and more.
We can't really rest easy while the underpinnings of our civil rights are in peril in other discussions. We simply can't.