After SCOTUS ruling, Pennsylvania looks to nix discrimination

After+SCOTUS+ruling%2C+Pennsylvania+looks+to+nix+discrimination

When he heard the news, Eddie Lowy got goosebumps.

As a rainbow-striped flag waved out front of his Downtown shop, Lowy, who is gay and identifies as a man, fixed his eyes on a television set and learned that nationally, he was granted a new right. The United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 in a historic ruling Friday that said the United States Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage.

Minutes later, Lowy’s landlord walked in and asked him what he thought of the ruling — and what he and his partner, Ricardo Cortes, who he’s been with for 35 years, were planning to do next.

“And I told him, ‘He’s had my heart, and now he’ll have my hands,’” Lowy said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling comes more than a year after a U.S. federal district court struck down a 1996 Pennsylvania law that banned same-sex marriage. In separate statements, both Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pennsylvania State Representative Dan Frankel, (D-Allegheny) said Friday was a day to celebrate.

Friday evening, Pittsburgh’s Delta Foundation, an organization that advocates for the visibility of the LGBTQ community, held a celebration at the intersection of Ellsworth and Maryland Avenue in Shadyside. Lowy, along with about 400 others, danced, sang and mingled in the streets in celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Gary Van Horn, the president of the Delta Foundation, said the ruling made him “proud to be an American.” But Van Horn said the work of the Delta Foundation and lawmakers is not yet finished.

While Pennsylvania allowed same-sex marriage as of last May, the state does not yet have a law in place that guards against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Both Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh have protection against discrimination in place, but nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s population lives in an area without protection against discrimination, according to the ACLU. For a gay individual who lives in Allegheny County but works elsewhere, Van Horn said, this means that person’s employer could potentially fire them for their sexuality.

Currently, Frankel and fellow state representative Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) are planning to reintroduce legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against a person based on that individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

The bills, Senate Bill 300and House Bill 300, were identical in language and called for Pennsylvania to amend its current non-discrimination law. The current law protects Pennsylvania citizens from discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age or national origin. The new bill would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to that list.

“The fact of the matter is, if you live in Allegheny County and work in Butler County, your employer can walk by your desk, see a picture of you and your partner, and say, ‘you’re fired,’” Frankel said.

The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission does not currently keep statistics on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination cases, according to Christina Reese, a spokesperson for the Commission.

Sen. Lawrence Farnese, Frankel and 23 other state senators introduced SB 300 in the summer of 2013 but it died on the floor last June. During a speech on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before the bills died, Farnese reamed his colleagues for their inaction on the two bills.

“Quite frankly, I find it disgusting and an embarrassment that we, in this day and age, in 2014, are still debating why it is OK for any class of citizens to be discriminated against as a second class,” Farnese said then.

Now, Farnese, Frankel and several other senators and representatives are planning to reintroduce the bills.

Farnese was not available to comment on the pending legislation, but Sally Keaveney, a spokesperson for his office, said it is “unconscionable” that employers and landlords could potentially discriminate against Pennsylvanians.

“I think having an adversarial climate, where you could be potentially fired for putting a picture of your husband or wife on your desk — I think that’s monstrously ridiculous,” Keaveney said.  

Last year, opponents of the bill, including the American Family Association, said besides a moral opposition, the legislation would discriminate against businesses, not individuals, if it passed either the House or Senate.

“Those businesses, such as wedding planners and photographers who have deeply held religious beliefs — they would be discriminated against,” Diane Gramley, president of AFA Pennsylvania, said.

The legislation would not “force anyone to do anything,” according to Keaveney, but would only allow the courts to say what is and what is not discriminatory.

“Business has caught up,” she said. “[It knows] discrimination is bad for business.”

Levana Layendecker, a spokesperson for Equality Pennsylvania, an LGBT rights advocacy group, said the bills didn’t pass last year because Pennsylvania lawmakers didn’t realize how big a threat discrimination was in the state.

“A lot of our leaders in Harrisburg are behind the times,” Layendecker said. “They don’t understand that discrimination exists and that it harms people.”

Gramley said the AFA doesn’t think the bills are necessary in Pennsylvania because the AFA believes homosexual and transgender individuals are not discriminated against.

“To me, that argument that you can be fired for being gay — they don’t have any evidence,” Gramley said.

Unlike the AFA, Layendecker said the bills’ deaths, not their passage, is what will hurt businesses in Pennsylvania. Without a statewide nondiscrimination law in place, she said, Pennsylvania is not in a position to accept “the best and the brightest.”

“We need to catch up,” Layendecker said.

Frankel said he hopes to introduce the bill in the next few days. He is confident Pennsylvania will take the next step for LGBT rights in the coming months.

“If it gets to the House, it’ll pass. If it gets to the Senate, it’ll pass,” Frankel said.

 

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