HARRISBURG- Hundreds of Pennsylvanians packed inside the state capitol rotunda in Harrisburg today to protest a proposed amendment to the state constitution on marriage.
The Value All Families Coalition (VAFC) organized "The Rally for All Families" in opposition to Senate Bill 1250, legislation that advocates called divisive and hurtful to thousands of Pennsylvanians. The amendment would ban same-sex marriage, civil unions, and could eliminate benefits that unmarried couples currently have.
At a meeting before the rally, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted the bill to the floor of the Senate.
"We are disappointed that the Senate Appropriations Committee voted the constitutional amendment out of committee today. Nobody should be fooled by supporters of the proposed amendment who say they just want to protect marriage," said Stacey Sobel, executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania. "The reality is this is an anti-family amendment. It will negatively impact many Pennsylvania families and it could take away some of the rights that protect them today."
Polling data released by Susquehanna Polling and Research in February indicates that 65 percent of Pennsylvania residents support civil unions for same-sex couples while just 27 percent oppose it. Support for civil unions includes 58 percent of Republicans, according to the Susquehanna poll, with just 35 percent of registered GOP voters opposing.
Andy Hoover, legislative assistant for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, noted the historic tradition of constitutions.
"The constitution is a document for protecting and expanding rights, not restricting them," Hoover said. "It is completely unacceptable for some senators to use our state constitution in this way."
In testimony at three public hearings, opponents of SB 1250 have raised concerns about the impact of the amendment on a variety of benefits currently available to same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples. As just one example, some advocates are worried that the constitutional amendment would leave Pittsburgh's domestic partner benefits ordinance null and void.
"SB 1250 is potentially destructive to Pennsylvania's working families," said Diane Topakian for Service Employees International Union Pennsylvania State Council. "The Pennsylvania Senate should be working on initiatives to enhance the lives of Pennsylvanians, like the healthcare reforms already passed by the House.
"Instead, the Senate is wasting taxpayers' time and money on this anti-family amendment."
Other speakers at the rally included Karen Buck, executive director of the SeniorLAW Center, and The Reverend Paul Fullmer, Chaplain at Lebanon Valley College. Legislators speaking at the event included Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh), Representative Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh), Senator Vincent Fumo (D-Philadelphia), Representative Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia), Representative Steve Nickol (R-Adams and York Counties), Representative David Steils (R-Bucks County), and Senator Connie Williams (D-Montgomery and Delaware Counties).