In debate over gay marriage amendment, Fumo says secret ballot might legalize slavery
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A state senator said he was exaggerating when he told a black pastor testifying at a public hearing that, given the chance to cast secret ballots, his fellow legislators would vote to legalize slavery.
Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, D-Philadelphia, made the comments Tuesday, April 29, during a committee hearing on a Republican-sponsored bill to amend the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Fumo declined to speak with a reporter Wednesday outside his office, but released a statement through an aide saying that he was "obviously exaggerating" to make a point.
"I wanted people at the hearing to face the fact that … denying human rights to any group, including homosexuals, at any point in our history, including in 2008, is wrong," Fumo said in the statement.
At the hearing, Fumo, a staunch defender of gay rights, told the witness, Gilbert Coleman Jr., senior pastor of Freedom Christian Bible Fellowship in Philadelphia, that the measure under consideration would take away the rights of a minority.
"If we introduced a bill on slavery, it might pass. That doesn’t make it right," said Fumo, who is white.
Coleman, who was testifying in favor of the measure, responded: "I doubt that sir."
"Oh, don’t bet on it in this General Assembly," Fumo countered. "I know some people up here, especially on a secret ballot, it would be almost unanimous."
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported on the exchange in a story on its Web site Wednesday.
Fumo is in his last months in office after a 30-year career as a state senator. He decided not to seek re-election, citing pending federal corruption charges that accuse him of defrauding the state Senate, a museum and a nonprofit community organization by using their staff and assets to do his personal and political work.
The Senate Appropriations Committee could vote on the gay marriage measure as early as Monday, May 5. Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said he expected Fumo would recognize that he crossed a line and either clarify the remarks or apologize.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 2, 2008.