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March 31, 2006

Philadelphia Bar Association Adopts Resolution Against Marriage Amendment to State Constitution

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Bar Association’s Board of Governors recently adopted, by unanimous vote, a resolution opposing a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, and would prohibit the state or its subdivisions from creating or recognizing any legal status equivalent to marriage. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is expected to take action this week on Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1084/House Bill 2381 or in the near future.

“As lawyers, we understand the consequences of hasty and ill-conceived legislative proposals. It is of even more concern when the proposal is in the form of a constitutional amendment,” Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Alan M. Feldman said. “The legislature should take more time to carefully examine the potentially negative consequences of this amendment before deciding whether to send this to the voters. We have never enshrined discrimination into our state’s constitution and we shouldn’t be jumping to do it now.”

Mark Momjian, co-chair of the Committee for the Legal Rights of Unmarried Cohabitants of the Association’s Family Law Section, presented the resolution to the Board and noted the amendment could have ramifications well beyond limiting same-sex marriages. Elimination of domestic partnership benefits currently guaranteed by many local laws, including crucial health benefits to children and pension benefits for senior citizens, was cited as a possible side effect of the amendment. Inheritance and housing rights could also be disrupted, Momjian observed, together with second-party adoptions and protection from domestic violence orders. Common law marriages recognized prior to a law change in January 2005 would be impacted by the amendment.

Calling the matter “a very important civil rights issue for Pennsylvania and the rest of the country,” Momjian said, “This amendment gives us a very narrow view of what is a family, and will deprive legal protection to many already established family units.”

Among other concerns, the Association’s resolution states that the proposed amendment “could prohibit courts from enforcing private contracts between unmarried domestic partners” and could “invalidate local zoning laws which permit non-traditional families to reside in the same household.”

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