By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
While other states are raising the bar on equality and recognizing marriages of same-sex couples, Pennsylvania still fails to provide basic equal right to approximately a million Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania civil rights laws provide no protection to Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender people (LGBT). The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), provides protection against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education and use of a guide dog, but completely fails to provide any protection for sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
There are, however, 14 municipalities in the Commonwealth that have ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or sexual identity. Additionally, in some instances the private sector has stepped forward to fill the void left by the state legislature. All of the 27 Fortune 500 companies based in Pennsylvania prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or sexual identity.
The Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law in 1996, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This law was clearly not enough, however, for State Senator John Eichelberger (R-Bliar) of western Pennsylvania, who recently introduced an amendment to the Pennsylvania’s constitution that would ban gay marriage. In response, State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Delaware/Motgomery) announced his intentions to introduce legislation before the Senate that would legalize same-sex marriage, and give marriage equality for all Pennsylvanians.
Senator Leach’s efforts regarding same-sex marriage, however, do not address the lack of protection for LGBT citizens in the PHRA. House Bill 300 was introduced this year by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny). The Bill would amend the PHRA to extend protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The bill was voted out of the committee but has made no progress. There is concern that once it makes it out of the State House, there will not be enough votes in the State Senate to get the bill passed.