During a June 19 radio debate, Pennsylvania State Sen. John Eichelberger (R) repeatedly asserted that same-sex marriage is wrong, “dysfunctional,” and would lead to “polygamy, marrying younger people.” (Eichelberger is “sponsoring a Constitutional amendment to redefine marriage as between a man and a woman.”) But perhaps his most shocking comments came when fellow lawmaker Sen. Daylin Leach (D) asked him how gay men and women should be treated:
Leach: Should our only policy towards [same-sex] couples be one of punishment, to somehow prove that they’ve done something wrong?
Eichelberger: They’re not being punished. We’re allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do. We’re just not rewarding them with any special designation.
Listen to excerpts of the debate here:
LGBT activists were incensed by Eichelberger’s comments, calling on him to apologize for his “insensitive remarks.” Yesterday, gay and straight protesters briefly met with Eichelberger, “after [he tried] ducking them twice.” They presented him with 5,000 signed petitions asking him to apologize. Eichelberger refused to do so:
EICHELBERGER: You know, the public process is very important in this country. That’s what my bill does. It allows the public to make a decision, which I think is a healthy thing. So I appreciate your support of at least that concept.
SPEAKER: So are you going to apologize to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in Pennsylvania — and all the people in Pennsylvania for those comments about allowing to exist and calling them dysfunctional.
EICHELBERGER: No, I think you know my answer to that. Thank you very much.
John Morgan of the Pennsylvania Progressive, who was at the Eichelberger confrontation and captured the exchange on video, said, “The fact he knew we would be at his office at noon and chose not to be there showed his cowardice. It was not until we waited an hour and returned that his receptionist allowed us a few minutes with the Senator in an additional hour.”
Eichelberger has said that his June 19 remarks have been taken out of context. ThinkProgress contacted the senator’s office, asking for clarification and whether he would be issuing an apology. Chief of staff Jason High simply said that the Eichelberger “has already clarified his statement in multiple media outlets.” He pointed us to a June 27 Altoona Mirror story. However, while Eichelberger repeatedly says that his comments are being misinterpreted, nowhere in that article does he shed any more light onto what he actually meant:
He [Eichelberger] said members of Keystone Progress have taken what he said out of context. He said Thursday afternoon he has no intention of taking back or apologizing for anything he stated during the discussion with Leach about heterosexual marriage, bigamy, polygamy, other different forms of marriage and procreation. … Eichelberger said Morrill and his group are purposefully misinterpreting his comment.
Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, an LGBT blog in Pennsylvania, writes, “It is one thing to disapprove of my identity or believe it is a choice, but quite another thing to suggest that I am permitted to exist in spite of my identity. Should I be grateful to Senator Eichelberger for not condoning someone taking away my existence?”