The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

July 14, 2013

Gay marriage ban had overwhelming support in ’96

HARRISBURG — The amendment came to the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives almost two decades ago as distracted lawmakers – wearied from a long day of floor debate and votes – got a jolt from the House speaker.

“This is an amendment that in some quarters might be considered controversial,” then-Speaker Matt Ryan, R-Delaware, warned House members on June 28, 1996. “You had better listen.”

It’s even more controversial today, especially after civil rights lawyers asked a federal judge in Harrisburg on Tuesday to overturn what is now a 17-year-old state law that bans same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania and prevents the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from states where they are legal.

Back then, no state had legalized same-sex marriage. Currently, 13 states and Washington, D.C., have laws supporting it – and Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that doesn’t allow same sex marriage or civil unions.

The proposal met vehement opposition from a few lawmakers who spoke on the floor, but ultimately just 34 out of 253 lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to stop the provision.

Former state Rep. David King, a Hempfield Township Republican who represented the 17th District at the time, was among those who spoke in support of the amendment.

“I think that we need to say to ourselves, ‘If not now, when?”’ King said in 1996. “I would say to you that it is time for us now to speak out for those values that have brought us to this great commonwealth through the past, ... that today’s values will be tomorrow’s future here in Pennsylvania.”

Of the state lawmakers who are still sitting, 42 supported it and 10 opposed the amendment at least once. Three members of the U.S. House – Republicans Charles Dent, Jim Gerlach and Joseph Pitts – were state lawmakers when they voted for the provision, while one – Democrat Allyson Schwartz – voted against it. Mike Fisher, now a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, voted for it as a Republican state senator.

Today, a handful of lawmakers who voted for that law belong to the Legislature’s 60-member lesbian- and gay-rights caucus, which supports same-sex marriage. One of them, Rep. Michael McGeehan, D-Philadelphia, said he regrets that vote and struggled with it at the time.

“If it was 1996 again, I wish I would have made another decision,” McGeehan said.

The Republican governor who signed the law, Tom Ridge, has also had an apparent change of heart. In February, he signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down California’s Proposition 8, which had banned gay marriage.

During floor comments, the writer of the amendment, then-Rep. Allan Egolf, R-Perry, told colleagues that he wanted Pennsylvania to avoid higher costs that would result from providing insurance and pension benefits to same-sex partners and to enshrine into law the state’s “traditional and longstanding policy of moral opposition to same-sex marriages.”

Egolf cited a Gallup poll from March 1996 that showed that 68 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and just 27 percent approved of it. Late last year, Gallup found that 46 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, versus 53 percent who support it.

Acceptance of same-sex marriage seems sure to grow more: 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed in the more recent Gallup poll supported it 73 percent to 26 percent.

On Thursday, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, called the law unconstitutional and said she refuses to defend it. That likely leaves its defense to Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who lines up with the national party platform that supports a constitutional amendment “defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Corbett has been silent on whether he will fight the lawsuit.

The House approved Egolf’s amendment, 177-16, after an effort to deem it unconstitutional failed, 171-29. The Senate took it up Oct. 1, 1996, and passed it, 43-5.

During floor debates, opponents – all Democrats but one – knew they were outnumbered.

“I know the vote today will probably be overwhelming, the same way the vote in a southern legislature years ago would have been overwhelming in discriminating against black minorities,” then-Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, told colleagues. “That does not make the vote right. It is still wrong.”

Text Only
Local News
  • Tech waste eyed for new contact

    The current Hermitage solid waste contract was designed to increase recycling while reducing the amount of garbage placed at the curb, and it has lived up to its promise.

    April 18, 2014

  • WaterFire Rekindled

    WaterFire Sharon has chosen themes for its festivals to be held on three Saturdays in downtown Sharon. “Elements” will be the theme July 19, “Origins” for Aug. 23 and “Motion” for the Sept. 27 celebration.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 17, 2014

    Man arrested for running from accident scene

    UPMC, Southwest eyeing security at hospital

    Crashes cause diversion of Interstate 80 traffic

    Court supports prison term in chase case

    Woman gets 5-10 years in crash that killed officer

    April 17, 2014

  • Officials pledge support to sewer project

    Publicly declaring their intention to donate county land to the Upper Neshannock Watershed Authority, Commissioners Matt McConnell and John Lechner said there’s no need for Commissioner Brian Beader to worry about the loss of the sewer project at the Interstate 80/Route 19 interchange.

    April 17, 2014

  • Griswold Avenue fire Neighbors tried to save victim

    As flames and thick smoke poured out of a Sharon house Tuesday evening, neighbors rallied to try and save the man who lived there alone.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman nabbed, sister sought in assault

    Southwest Mercer County Regional police have arrested a Hermitage woman for breaking into a home in Farrell and beating a woman and are seeking the alleged assailant’s sister.

    April 16, 2014

  • Despite good deeds, man going back to prison

    Linda K. Kretzer had nothing but praise for Raymond C. McKelvey.

    April 16, 2014

  • 15-year-old legal battle returning to county court

    State Supreme Court has let stand a Superior Court decision sending a landmark medical malpractice case back to Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

    April 16, 2014

  • Southwest mulls how to adopt study points

    Even though some members of the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department had little respect for a study of the department completed by a consultant, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. pledged to implement as many of the study’s recommendations as he could.

    April 16, 2014

  • Beader plans to resign, just not yet

    Democratic Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader acknowledges that he intends to resign, but said nothing will happen until after he meets privately with the county’s judges next Thursday.

    April 16, 2014

  • Wildlife fund for park Aiding Buhl Farm animals

    Some of Steven Jubelirer’s fondest memories of his mother, Natalie, was when they would walk together in Buhl Farm park, Hermitage.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • News briefs from April 15, 2014

    Man charged with attack on his wife in Walmart

    Woman arrested for stabbing man with knife

    3 injured in pickup-motorcycle crash

    April 15, 2014

  • Judge orders Marin removed from ballot

    Saying the testimony of Congressional candidate Mel Marin of Sharon wasn’t credible, the Commonwealth Court has ordered Marin’s name removed from the Democratic Party’s ballot for one of area’s congressional seats in the May primary because Marin now has less than the required 1,000 valid signatures.

    April 15, 2014

  • Fire ruled accident, but cause unknown

    The fire in Greenville-Reynolds Industrial Park was most likely started by workers who were gutting the building, according to a deputy fire marshal.

    April 15, 2014

  • Mertz Tower fire Mertz tenant charged with arson

    A tenant who was being evicted from her apartment because of bizarre behavior is accused of setting her sofa ablaze at Wade D. Mertz Towers in Sharpsville.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo