PA Gov. Corbett Supports Banning Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

by Central Voice

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said Tuesday (Dec. 17, 2013) he supports legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Corbett is referring to House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300. Each bill calls for amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Yesterday, Corbett told the The (Phila.) Inquirer that he was “coming out in support” of the bills after learning that federal law does not cover discrimination in the state.

“I’ve had people come and talk to me about how they were discriminated against,” said Corbett, who served for eight years as the state’s attorney general. “The federal government has antidiscrimination laws. I believed they covered it.”

Such legislation dealing with LGBT discrimination has been floating around the state’s General Assembly for a decade. Corbett’s support is viewed by advocates as a major step forward on a civil rights issue.

“His leadership will move the issue forward in a way that is long overdue,” said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, a statewide gay rights advocacy group.

Currently, 23 states, including all of the Northeastern United States, and 33 Pennsylvania municipalities have nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity. Twenty-three Fortune 500 companies based in Pennsylvania have similar nondiscrimination policies.

The companion bills now in the House and Senate calling for protections against anti-gay discrimination, were introduced this year by Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) and Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh) with bipartisan support. Still, both pieces of legislation have failed to move out of their respective committees.

The nondiscrimination bills include language that would exempt religious schools and certain businesses that have a religious affiliation.

Corbett mentioned a like-minded conservative in Congress, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., PA), who voted for the federal nondiscrimination bill that passed the Senate last month.

Closer to home, the move pits the governor against one of the legislature’s most vocal conservatives, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), chairman of the state government committee, who controls the movement of the bill in the House.

When asked how he would overcome Metcalfe’s opposition, Corbett shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” But he added that he thought the bill, if brought to a vote, would gain support from “both sides of the aisle.”

As background, Central Voice (Jan-Feb 2013 print edition), noted the formation of the state’s first LGBT Caucus in 2012. The caucus mission reflects a comprehensive set of civil rights supported by its members in the House and Senate.

Caucus co-chairs Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery remain hopeful.

“We know that a solid majority of Pennsylvanians support changing state law to make it more fair and equal on several issues,” Rep. Frankel said upon the group’s formation. He’s referring to a statewide poll of 1,200 registered voters indicating 70% support legislation protecting people who live or work in Pennsylvania from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Co-chair Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, has said, “I’ve been working to legalize marriage equality in Pennsylvania for quite some time, and I am eager to work with my colleagues in the LGBT Equality Caucus and bring those efforts to fruition. We need to end the unjust and hurtful discrimination under current state law that denies same sex couples the benefits we offer married couples.”

A year ago, Dr. Terry Madonna, nationally recognized polling guru who directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, Franklin & Marshall College, told Central Voice: “Incremental, changes in gay issues and attitudes and how these changes are reflected in laws will be incremental.”

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