On Monday afternoon, State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, faced an existential question and - like many before him - deflected it.
In Eichelberger's case, the question was not how to construct meaning in a world in which there's no presumption of meaning, but how to appease the gay community for what it considers the appallingly presumptuous statement that our government "allows" same-sex couples "to exist."
A delegation of about 30 people representing a variety of gender-based advocacy groups visited Eichelberger's office in Harrisburg seeking an apology for the statement, made in a debate with another senator on a Philadelphia radio program recently.
Eichelberger is sponsoring a Constitutional amendment to redefine marriage as between a man and a woman; the other senator is sponsoring a bill to broaden the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
In a video provided by delegation leader Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, Eichelberger doesn't apologize, but tells the group their advocacy is in keeping with the spirit of his amendment, in that it is part of "the public process," and "a healthy thing."
As for apologizing, "I think you know my answer to that," he said.
The non-response helped fuel healthy anger among the delegation, which shrank after not finding Eichelberger in his office on first and second visits, only encountering him eventually in the hall outside the Senate chamber, according to Morrill and Becca Glenn, a community organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
"He keeps saying his words were taken out of context," Morrill said. "We gave him an opportunity to put it into context, and he refused."
In an e-mail to the media afterward, Eichelberger focused on his proposed amendment, which seeks to let "the people" rather than the courts decide on marriage between same-sex couples.
Previously, he pointed out that he made the statement in a discussion touching on punitive policies - like those against polygamy - saying it doesn't apply in this case, that instead, "We're allowing them to exist."
It's outrageous to imply the government "has a choice whether these people exist," Glenn said. "Is he going to take them out back and shoot them?"
The groups will keep trying for an apology, although Morrill isn't sure what tactics they'll use.
It isn't a game, but a serious attempt to point out the consequences of such words, which, left unchallenged, could embolden those who would enforce totalitarian policies toward gays, in the manner of authorities in Iran toward disfavored groups, Morrill said.
The effort may change Eichelberger's mind, too, he said.
He's seen others who came around from homophobia and racism, he said.
Eichelberger's amendment proposal would unfairly put minority rights to a referendum vote, said Andy Hoover, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU.
Minorities can't get a fair deal from the majority, as the Founders recognized when they framed the Bill of Rights, he said.
It takes the courts to uphold minority rights like gay and interracial marriage, he said.
He predicted that neither Eichelberger's amendment nor the bill of Sen. Daylin Leach, D-King of Prussia, would pass, but that eventually, same-sex marriage will become legal in Pennsylvania, in keeping with social trends.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.