First Posted: 9/16/2013
Pennsylvania law, like federal law, bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, age and disability. And state law, like federal law, does not explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
It’s time to change both, starting with twin bills in the state House and state Senate that would make such discrimination in the workplace and in housing illegal in Pennsylvania. But it’s going to take a concerted effort to get the law enacted.
House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 have been introduced before without success. Similar proposals go back as far as 2001 but never made it to floor votes, yet 21 states, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland, and 33 municipalities in Pennsylvania have such anti-discrimination laws on the books.
One difference this year is that both bills have bipartisan sponsorship — Democrat Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill and Republican Chris Ross of Chester County in the House and Democrat Lawrence M. Farnese Jr. of Philadelphia and Republican Patrick M. Browne of Lehigh County in the Senate. The measures have significant support, with 90 co-sponsors in the House and 25 in the Senate.
In addition, the anti-discrimination plans have public support. Susquehanna Polling and Research reports that 72 percent of Pennsylvanians favor banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, none of this ensures the bills will get a vote, particularly in the House. The obstacle there is Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Cranberry Republican who chairs the House Government Committee, where the bill sits.
In typical fashion, Mr. Metcalfe opposes this plan by standing its intention on its head, asserting that giving gay people the same protection against unfair firing or housing discrimination as other Pennsylvanians will infringe upon, in his words, “the rights of individuals who have religious objections to that type of lifestyle.”
Public shaming might not convince Mr. Metcalfe to schedule hearings and a vote, but perhaps Mr. Frankel’s economic argument will be persuasive. In his sponsorship memo, he pointed out that all Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the state have nondiscrimination policies because they regard them as good business practice.
Republican leaders, who preside over the party of business and the party that controls the Legislature, must ensure that Mr. Metcalfe releases this common-sense bill for a floor vote.