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Twenty-seven states have constitutions with amendments that ban same-sex marriage. Now, Pennsylvania is considering whether to join them.

Last week the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would amend the state's constitution to make both same-sex marriages and the "functional equivalent" of marriage - such as civil unions - illegal in Pennsylvania.

The amendment would strengthen the Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996 and prohibits same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Under the Defense of Marriage Act, one court case with a favorable ruling for same-sex couples could overturn the statute. But if the state constitution is amended to ban same-sex marriage, only the U.S. Supreme Court or another state constitutional amendment could permit same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.

Before the bill can be put into effect, it must pass the Senate Appropriations Committee and two consecutive General Assembly sessions. Then state residents would vote on it in a referendum.

The bill, which was proposed by State Sen. Michael Brubaker (R-Lancaster), is strongly opposed by a variety of groups, ranging from law professors to Christian organizations.

Reverend Beverly Dale of Penn's Christian Association called the bill "morally indefensible."

"For me, it's like kicking someone when they're down," Dale said. "What is the need for it? It's shameless."

Executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania Stacey Sobel, who is also a law school lecturer, said her organization deals with hundreds of unmarried families each year who need help, including heterosexual couples who have chosen not to marry, because they aren't offered the same benefits as married couples.

"It's critical that all families are treated the same in Pennsylvania," Sobel said.

Tobias Wolff, a Penn Law professor, spoke against the bill at a Senate Judiciary hearing. His testimony focused on the interstate implications of provisions limiting same-sex marriages in civil unions.

Wolff also said he opposed a constitutional amendment that limits the rights of a particular segment of the population.

"We shouldn't be writing inequality into our constitution," he said.

Supporters of the bill, like Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, say they just want to "bring the issue before the people."

Gramley said the ban must extend to civil unions as well as same-sex marriages to prevent same-sex couples from using "civil unions as a stepping stone to get homosexual marriages legalized."

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