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Gay marriage issue may affect adoptions

| Friday, March 12, 2004

Adoption advocates and some state lawmakers fear a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment could kill efforts to increase subsidies given to people who adopt abused or neglected children.

Yet state Rep. Jerry Birmelin said he believes protecting what he calls "traditional marriage" is more important at the moment.

The federal government pays people to adopt abused or neglected children as long as local governments match a portion of the subsidy.

Some local governments can't afford to pay it, said Scott Hollander, executive director of Kids Voice, a children's advocacy group. A bill introduced by state Rep. John T. Yudichak, D-Luzerne County, would relieve that burden by making the state responsible for the matching funds.

Birmelin, R-Wayne County, originally proposed about 40 amendments to the bill aimed at things such as preventing same-sex benefits for state employees and prohibiting homosexuals and single people from adopting children. Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, threatened to veto the bill if the amendments were added.

Birmelin said yesterday he intends to introduce a single amendment that would explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage and civil unions in Pennsylvania, and would make the state the sole arbiter of who can and can't get married.

It is an effort to close loopholes used by officials in California, New York and Oregon to grant marriage licenses to homosexuals. Those actions reignited the national debate over whether gays should have the same marital rights as heterosexuals.

Mayors in Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Plattsburgh, N.Y., have expressed support for same-sex marriages, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court has declared it was unconstitutional to deny gays the right to marry.

Kate Phillips, Rendell's spokeswoman, said the governor would have to review the amendment before deciding whether to veto it, but she reiterated his long-standing support of gay rights.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said it is "reprehensible" to legalize discrimination against a specific group of people.

"If anyone believes this is a moderate approach, just look at what the other 40 amendments would be doing to see where these people are coming from," he said. "I think they realize that they may have reached too far."

Regardless of anyone's stand on gay rights, this is a terrible way to have the debate, Hollander said.

"Don't make our kids a litmus test for gay rights," Hollander pleaded. "Fight that fight somewhere else."

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