Proposed Pennsylvania Bill Would Ban Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

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HARRISBURG, PA—Pennsylvania lawmakers are on their way to making history when voting is held on a controversial bill that would extend anti-discrimination rights to include sexual orientation.

The proposed bill would amend the state Human Relations Act to extend protections against bias in housing, employment, credit or public accommodations. House Bill 300 barely passed the House State Government Committee last month and will soon be voted on by the House of Representatives.

The committee vote was along party lines, with the majority Democrats prevailing 12-11. State Government Committee Chairwoman Babette Josephs, D, 182nd, Philadelphia was pleased and said that there has never been a positive hearing on a gay and lesbian issue before.

The bill would extend the same rights that currently protect people against discriminatory acts based on race, religion, and ability to people with different sexual orientations.

Representative Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, sponsored the House Bill 300 and assured constiuents that if the bill is passed, outlawing discrimation against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people, an historic step would be taken towards human rights and equality.

Representative Kerry Benninhoff, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was unable to support the bill because of its many gray areas. He cited his own misgivings that sexual expression and gender perception are undefinable, which puts employers in a very difficult position.

Twenty other states have written similar rules into law.

Some critics argue that the way the bill is written may limit the freedoms of some religious groups. Representative Glen Grell, R-Cumberland County believes that a Catholic school or any other religious entity should retain the right to hire people who agree with the doctrine that is taught in that establishment. This would likely preclude such an institution from hiring gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals.

Fourteen municipalities across the state, including Pittsburgh, currently have laws in place against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Stephan A. Glassman, who chairs the state Human Relations Commission, said dozens of gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender people contact his agency with discrimination complaints every year, highlighting the need to expand the law. Many more would do so if state law offered them more protection.

House Bill 300 would make the policy consistent statewide and also would extent protections to gender identity or expression.

 

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