Conservative lawmakers in the General Assembly are always trying to save the institution of marriage from an imagined horror. This year is no different. Although marriage suffers its greatest damage when heterosexuals divorce, the threat is always identified as gays wanting to marry.
Further, the remedial action sought is always a reaction to no discernible state problem. Pennsylvania has had the Defense of Marriage Act since 1996 and that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. To be sure, courts in other states have found a constitutional right for gays to marry, but that seems unlikely in this socially conservative commonwealth.
Still, state Sen. John Eichelberger, a Republican from Blair County, sees what has gone on in other states and is concerned. He notes that three states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa -- now permit same-sex marriage; two more will do so soon, and others are considering it. He plans to introduce a bill that would start the lengthy process to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage in the state constitution.
Lawmakers should reject this effort to keep Pennsylvania firmly rooted in the past just when changing attitudes are making other parts of the country more tolerant. Even if courts were to overthrow the 1996 law, what possible effect would it have on anyone else's marriage? None whatsoever.
As for the usual excuse that is sure to be trotted out to deny gay people equal treatment under the law, the sanctity of marriage is not for politicians to save -- and if they were serious about doing so, they would include a ban on divorce as well as same-sex marriage. As always, that won't happen in a month of Sundays.
Sen. Eichelberger's proposed bill, stripped of its supposed moral purpose, is just the same old prejudice that refuses to grant a minority group its dignity.