A key Pennsylvania Senate committee will take up the issue of gay marriage on Tuesday, the AP reported.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr's joint resolution that aims to define marriage as a heterosexual union in the state constitution, effectively outlawing gay marriage and blocking the state Supreme Court from legalizing the institution.

Eichelberger announced the effort last May during a press conference held on the steps of the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg. The freshman senator represents Pennsylvania's 30th district, which includes Blair County. Introduction of the bill was postponed until January due to the economy, Eichelberger said.

“Pennsylvania voters have the opportunity to decide how they want marriage to be defined and not allow an activist judge to make that decision for them,” the Republican senator said in a statement. “Thirty one other states have already gone through a similar process and in each state, the definition of marriage was upheld.”

The resolution would insert the following language into the state constitution: “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid and recognized as a marriage in this Commonwealth.”

“It's a simple matter of civil rights,” Michael Morill of Keystone Progress, a group that opposes the bill, told Metro International. “The Supreme Court, when it struck down interracial marriage bans, it realized marriage is one of the basic rights of society. Today, almost nobody thinks it's right to prevent people from getting married for artificial distinctions on race.”

Amending Pennsylvania's constitution requires the approval of two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by the approval of voters. The earliest voters could see the issue on the ballot is 2011.

Passage in the Republican-controlled Senate appears to be a given, but the proposal might encounter turbulence from Democratic leaders in the House, who control the chamber.

Pennsylvania voters – like much of the country – are clearly divided on the issue. According to a June, 2009 Franklin & Marshall statewide poll, 48% of respondents support defining marriage as a heterosexual union in the state constitution, while 46% said they were opposed. However, a majority of voters (58%) support civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Currently, Pennsylvania bans gay marriage by law, which anti-gay marriage foes say leaves the law vulnerable to being overturned by a judge.

Indiana lawmakers are considering a similar measure.