HARRISBURG - The state House of Representatives churns out uncontroversial resolutions every week to commemorate the dead, honor people's achievements, raise awareness of health issues, and recognize things important to Pennsylvania, such as pretzels.
So it took many people by surprise when a resolution designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month was derailed Wednesday by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), who claimed it "had a homosexual agenda."
The Western Pennsylvania legislator said he detected that agenda in this phrase: "one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape."
Metcalfe's objection, which under House rules meant the bill was sent back to committee, mystified the bill's sponsor and angered groups that advocate for victims of domestic violence and for gay rights.
"His comments show incredible insensitivity about what domestic violence is, combined with bigotry against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgendered people," said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, an advocacy group in Harrisburg.
Morrill said he was urging supporters to send faxes and e-mails to Metcalf's office demanding that he apologize to Pennsylvanians for his remarks.
Metcalfe, in an interview yesterday, said he opposed the resolution because it went beyond what he considered traditional domestic-violence programs that help battered women and children.
"It had language woven through it that brought men into the situation," said Metcalfe, who voted for similar resolutions in the last two years. "I don't support the resolution or funding for groups that go beyond helping women."
Victims' advocacy groups say men are victims of domestic violence in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. There were 835,000 reported cases of male victims of domestic violence in the nation last year, according to the resolution.
Metcalfe says he voted for the resolution in the past because he did not notice references to sexual violence against men.
The measure's sponsor, Rep. John Siptroth (D., Monroe), said the language of this year's bill had been modified only slightly and called Metcalfe's action "completely out of line."
"There was no mention at all about homosexual activity," Siptroth said. "It could be that a [victimized] partner was a man, but it did not promote that."
Groups that provide domestic-violence counseling, housing, and other support services for victims said they were discouraged that Metcalfe would block the resolution at a time when the state budget crisis had left some shelters with empty freezers and resorting to "blast" e-mails to round up toilet paper.
Judy Yupcavage, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said there were 50 fatalities statewide in domestic-violence cases.
The Victim Outreach Intervention Center in Evans City last year served 2,300 men and women in and around Metcalfe's district. Director Elizabeth Clark-Smith said her group had seen a spike in such violence recently. She said she was discouraged that the region's representative appeared "completely confused" about the issue.
Metcalfe said that although the resolution was symbolic and did not authorize any funding, it could be seen as promoting groups that serve homosexuals.
Siptroth said he hoped the House would consider the resolution in the next two weeks, in time for him to participate in an event with a domestic-violence services group in his district. He said he wanted to present the group with a copy of the approved resolution.
Metcalfe, who has served in the House for a decade, said he looked forward to debating the issue on the House floor. Of Morrill's apology campaign, the lawmaker said, "Tell him, don't hold his breath."