Gov. Tom Wolf has called on lawmakers to pass legislation prohibiting housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. Current state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, age, race, religion or ethnicity. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia already forbid employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in this commonwealth since last spring, but gay Pennsylvanians still have reason to worry.
They may marry on a Saturday and then be fired Monday just for being who they are.
It’s time to fix this.
It’s just the right thing to do.
The cause of gay rights has champions on both sides of the political aisle: Indeed, the fight to legalize same-sex marriage across the United States is led by Republican Ted Olson, President George W. Bush’s solicitor general.
In Pennsylvania, House and Senate Bill 300, which would have barred discrimination against LGBT people, had bipartisan support and sponsorship last year. Then-Gov. Tom Corbett was willing to sign the legislation had it reached his desk.
It never did. It went to the House State Government Committee, where Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Butler County Republican who chairs the panel, refused to schedule a hearing on it. Democratic Rep. Mike Sturla was the only member of the Lancaster County delegation to sponsor the bill.
Its sponsors have signaled their intention to reintroduce the legislation soon. We’re hoping it fares better this year.
It would ensure that elderly gay couples no longer would have to lie about their relationships to live together in retirement communities and assisted living facilities.
It would mean that employees would be judged on merit; sexual orientation would not be a factor in promotion or hiring.
It would allow companies to assure prospective employees that their rights would be protected in Pennsylvania, no matter where in the commonwealth they would make their homes.
“Why would we cut ourselves off from a talent pool that is broad as it could possibly be?” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Gov. Wolf saying last week. “Why would we cut ourselves off from people just because of who they love?”
Wolf was speaking at an Equality Pennsylvania event that was co-sponsored by Dow Chemical Co.
Other businesses that support the anti-discrimination legislation, according to Equality Pennsylvania, include Alcoa, The PNC Financial Services Group and American Eagle Outfitters. The chambers of commerce in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh also support it.
Only 34 of Pennsylvania’s more than 2,500 municipalities have anti-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people.
So an employee of a company that has more than one location might find, for instance, that his rights are protected in the City of Lancaster — which is among those 34 municipalities — but not elsewhere in Lancaster County.
It’s time to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include protections for those who are gay, bisexual or transgender.
They’re not asking for special protection. They’re asking for the same housing and employment rights that should be accorded to every American, but sadly are not.
Pennsylvania is where American history began. We don’t want to be on the wrong side of history now.
Read the text of Senate Bill 300: