Gov. Tom Corbett was unquestionably a conservative, and in 2013 he came out in support of a statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. At the time, Corbett said he was surprised that a federal law did not provide such protection, and added that he would sign a such a law for Pennsylvania if it made it out of the General Assembly and landed on his desk.
It never did.
Even as same-sex marriage becomes more widely accepted – 64 percent of Americans support it, according to a recent Gallup poll – and gays and lesbians are readily welcomed in most parts of the country as friends, neighbors and co-workers, in Pennsylvania they are not protected from losing employment or being denied housing based on who they are or who they love. A bill to change that has been introduced year after year, and year after year it goes nowhere. This needs to change.
Maybe it will this year. On Wednesday, state Rep. Dan Frankel, an Allegheny County Democrat, reintroduced the Pennsylvania Fairness Act and, this time, suggested that it be sent to a committee other than the State Government Committee. The reason? The State Government Committee is led by Daryl Metcalfe, a representative from Butler County known for his outlandishly far-right views. Metcalfe said last year that he would not nudge the bill forward because he didn’t think there was enough support for it on his committee. Metcalfe explained that he did not “bring bills up just to make a point. I don’t want to waste the time and energy of our members.” Frankel and other sponsors of the bill believe the delays have been driven by Metcalfe’s antipathy toward LGBT people.
In a statement released Wednesday, Frankel explained “Pennsylvania polls for the past eight years have shown consistent 70 percent support for providing our LGBT relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers with the same protections as the rest of us.”
He pointed to the fierce opposition to laws in Indiana and North Carolina that were perceived as blatantly discriminating against LGBT residents and that they showed “the economic penalty for doing the wrong thing, (and) the economic reward for doing the right thing.”
In lieu of federal or state laws, 40 municipalities in Pennsylvania have already put their own anti-discrimination statutes on the books, and 20 states have also done so. There are, however, some states that are marching in the opposite direction. For instance, Alabama’s legislature recently approved a measure that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. South Dakota enacted a similar law earlier this year.
These laws will probably seem hopelessly antediluvian within a decade, if not sooner, even if they withstand legal scrutiny. It was not all that long ago, after all, that states were rushing to ban same-sex marriage. The laws didn’t last long – many were overturned by the courts, and, in 2012, President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court affirmed the right of same-sex couples to wed three years later.
Really, what are they waiting for? It’s time for legislators, at long last, to get the Fairness Act to the governor’s desk.