WLP Testified in Opposition to HB 861, Preemption of Local Labor Protections — WLP Blog

The conservative, right-wing, anti-labor General Assembly in Pennsylvania is once again attempting to take away local control over their local labor ordinances. They want to preempt all labor protections that local municipalities have enacted since 2015.  This includes paid sick leave as well as all local anti-discrimination ordinances that go beyond protections provided in state law.  This would include protections for LGBTQIA people, marital and familial status in general (other than familial status protections in housing).  The current bill being debated is HB 861, also known as the “Preemption of Local Labor Protections.” This morning, the Women’s Law Project testified before the House Labor and Industry Committee.  Below is there blog summarizing this testimony.

The bill was not voted on today.  So you have two chances in the House to stop this bill. First, contact members of the House Labor and Industry Committee and ask them to vote no during the committee vote. Second, you can also contact your Representative to raise your voice in opposition to this bill.  You can find your legislator here.

So take a couple of minutes, read the WLP blog on this issue, and then make your calls/emails. Thank you!

 

via WLP Testified in Opposition to HB 861, Preemption of Local Labor Protections — WLP Blog

Today, WLP Staff Attorney Amal M. Bass testified in opposition to House Bill 861(preemption of local laws protecting workers) before the Pennsylvania House Labor & Industry Committee. The Women’s Law Project strongly opposes HB 861, which is sponsored by Rep. Seth Groves of York County.

You can read Amal’s testimony in full here.

What is Preemption?

Preemption bills like HB 861 prohibit local governments from passing local ordinances to meet the needs and reflect the values of their own communities.

HB861 Would be Retroactive

HB 861 is even worse than a typical state preemption bill because it includes a retroactivity clause designed to strip away local protections that have already been implemented, including protections for LGBTQ workers and paid sick days ordinances that provide protections for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

HB 861 Would Nullify a Broad Range of Workplace Protections

The way it is written, HB 861 could apply to almost any local government’s attempt to protect its own workers.

HB 861 Targets Paid Sick Days in Philadelphia & Pittsburgh   

HB 861 would retroactively strip hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania workers of their right to paid sick days.

The Women’s Law Project testified in support of Philadelphia’s paid sick days ordinance, which City Council passed and the Mayor signed on February 12, 2015 after a thorough, multi-year process that drew upon the recommendations of a Task Force representing many perspectives on the issue, including employers.  The local law that resulted from this process provides forty hours of earned paid sick time in a calendar year for workers of employers with ten or more employees, and it provides unpaid sick time to workers of smaller employers.

Philadelphia’s paid sick days ordinance also provides paid leave to employees whose absence is related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This ordinance is vital for the health and well-being of women and their families in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, giving paid sick leave to more than 200,000 workers.

In 2015, Pittsburgh joined Philadelphia in recognizing these benefits when it used its home rule authority and its authority to pass public health laws to pass a modest earned paid sick leave ordinance. The Women’s Law Project and attorneys from the Partnership for Working Families filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Pittsburgh’s paid sick days law on behalf of fifty-one organizations committed to women’s health and safety.

However, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association has challenged this local law, halting its implementation, in a lawsuit currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

This is typical in that special-interest groups often seek to block and stall protections from workers so that they may profit from the lack of protections. That doesn’t mean lawmakers representing hard-working constituents should allow them to succeed.

HB 861 is a Direct Attack on LBGTQ Pennsylvanians

House Bill 861 also affects discrimination laws. More than forty municipalities in Pennsylvania have local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of many protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, which our employment laws at the state and federal levels, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, do not explicitly cover.

HB 861 is equipped with a retroactive provision that could strip protections for LGBTQ workers passed places such as Ambler Borough, Bridgeport Borough, Carlisle, Dickson City, Mount Lebanon, Kennett Square Borough, Narberth Borough, Phoenixville, Royersford, Stroudsburg, and Wilkes-Barre. All of these municipalities passed anti-discrimination laws after 2015, and therefore could trigger HB 861’s retroactive preemption. The bill could also prohibit every municipality in the state from altering or adding to their antidiscrimination provisions in the future.

Local Governments Pass Laws Protecting Workers Because the State Fails to Do So

Pennsylvania is a patchwork of worker protections in part due to the failure of the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass meaningful worker protections, despite overwhelming evidence of the need to do so. HB 861 would undo and prohibit progress at the local level, taking rights away from the citizens of Pennsylvania without filling the void with statewide legislation.

Absurdly, an argument sometimes made for preemption is that Pennsylvania’s patchwork of protections is confusing. If Pennsylvania’s patchwork of protections is a problem, it should be solved by ensuring all Pennsylvania workers are treated fairly with state-level protections, not state-level efforts to nullify local protections.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Transgender Students Can Use Facilities that Match their Gender Identity Within the 3rd Circuit

This decision covers those living in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands.  The case, known as Joel Doe et al v Boyertown Area School District et al, is another school bathroom case. Boyertown is a school district in Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania.  The following blog was written by the Women’s Law Project, a Pennsylvania-based public-interest law center focused on the rights of women and girls.  They wrote one of the amici briefs in this successful gender-identity rights case.

[On May 24, 2018], the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that upheld a Pennsylvania school district’s policy that permits transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Court observers had the opportunity to witness a rare spectacle. Rather than take weeks or months to issue an opinion after arguments, the three-judge panel convened for a less than 30 minutes before ruling in favor of Boyertown Area School District’s policy and by extension, the rights of transgender students.

The plaintiffs, four cisgender students who claimed they were harassed by the mere presence of a transgender person in the locker room or restroom, were represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom. The School District defended the suit, and the Pennsylvania Youth Congress Foundation, a coalition of LGBTQ youth leaders and youth organizations, intervened in the lawsuit. They were represented by the ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Attorneys at the Women’s Law Project and co-counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the Boyertown policy that argues that the presence of transgender students in facilities corresponding to their gender identity does not violate Title IX. Rather, Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use those facilities.

Twelve organizations signed on to the brief, including the American Association of University Women, California Women’s Law Center, Champion Women, Equal Rights Advocates, Gender Justice, Legal Aid at Work, Legal Voice, National Women’s Law Center, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Southwest Women’s Law Center, and Women’s Law Center of Maryland.

“This ruling is a huge victory for the rights of transgender students,” says WLP staff attorney Amal Bass, who co-authored the amicus brief with staff attorney Christine Castro and managing attorney Terry L. Fromson. “The momentum is undeniable, and the Third Circuit panel sent an important message today by issuing its decision unanimously and immediately.”

You can read or download our brief here.

For all of the documents, see here.

Background

Boyertown School District instituted a policy to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity, rather than the sex identified on their birth certificates.

Four anonymous students represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group often focused on restricting the rights of LGBTQ people, challenged the policy, arguing that the presence of transgender student constituted sexual harassment under Title IX and violated the Constitution.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law designed to eliminate sex discrimination in schools and education programs.

Our Argument

Our brief highlights the fact that the courts have previously ruled that a person’s reproductive anatomy is not, in all instances, an accurate signifier of a person’s sex. For transgender people, a person’s gender identity is the most accurate determinant of their sex. Thus, Title IX does not provide a legal basis for Appellant-students to deny transgender students equal access to an education.

To the contrary, Title IX requires the school district continue the current policy of enabling transgender students to use facilities matching their gender identity because the alternative—a policy that segregates students only by biology-based, assigned sex—would discriminate against transgender students by denying them use of facilities in accordance with their gender identity.

Indeed, when plaintiff’s counsel advised the judges that he was merely asking for a “return to the status quo,” meaning, a reversal of the recently enacted policy, Circuit Judge Theodore McKee responded by bringing up landmark segregation case Brown v. Board of Education, pointing out that changes are made when there is a problem with the status quo.

“The Momentum is Undeniable”

This victory comes on the heels of another big win for transgender rights in the United States. On Tuesday May 22, a federal court ruled against a Virginia school district, holding that federal law protects a transgender student who sought to use the boys’ bathroom at his school. A federal appeals court based in Chicago issued a similar ruling in a different challenge in May 2017.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

via Victory: Third Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Rights of Transgender Students — WLP Blog

Mississippi Wins Most Hateful Contest

Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina. Now it’s Mississippi spreading their bigotry. Maybe we should suggest that the ‘ol Miss start using this video ad to clearly state who they want to visit the state.

//www.funnyordie.com/embed/8c36175bbc

Sigh!

Nel's New Day

If the states had a contest to see which one could pass the most hateful and broadly discriminatory law, Mississippi would be the winner—at least for now. Mississippi is the “South of the South,” according a friend familiar with “the South.” To keep their pride—and poverty— the state legislature has passed, and Gov. Phil Bryant has signed, a law that may be the model for the conservative extremists in other red states. Legislators started with right-wing reaction to giving marriage rights to same-gender couples and then accelerated with the thought of transgender people using the bathroom that matches their gender identity—and their appearance. The claim is protecting “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions,” but its purpose is to allow discrimination against most people to run amok. It allows employers to use not only bathroom and locker access policies but also dress code and grooming.

Bryant claims that “this…

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Marriage Equality Not for All

Thanks Nel for highlighting this issue. I did not know that “One segment of the U.S. population not covered by the Supreme Court ruling that legalizes marriage equality is Native Americans living on reservations.

Why? Because Congress or the tribes themselves must make that decision since reservations are sovereign lands and apparently are not under the direct purview of the US Supreme Court.

I’m am pleased however to hear that “many tribes have changed their laws to legalize marriage equality or ruled that they will follow the rules of the state where reservations are located, but ten tribes, including the two largest ones of Cherokee Nation and the Navajo, have acts that prohibit same-gender marriage.

I hope my readers read and then support their Native brothers and sisters in their efforts to gain same-sex gender equality within their tribal nations.

Nel's New Day

Every month in editing a newsletter for our local PFLAG group, I write articles about national and global news. This past month has been filled with the aftermath—and sometimes backlash—to the Supreme Court decision that LGBT people should have equal rights in marriage. The media frenzy began when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-gender couples should have the right to marry in all 50 states. Here are some of the issues that emerged from that decision.

Of course, conservatives were traumatized by the possibility that LGBT people could get married. Judges refused to marry same-gender couples or said that they were too busy. A Texas judge required everyone who he married, LGBT or straight, to sign a document stating that he was opposed to the decision and that no one should even mention marriage equality in his presence. Some clerks decided to quit rather than issue marriage licenses. One of…

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Calling for Marriage Equality

Last Monday (October 21), New Jersey became the fourteenth state to grant lesbian and gay couples the right to marry.  This declaration came through the New Jersey Supreme Court on Friday, October 18 when the Court stated that same-sex couples could marry while the state’s appeal to uphold the ban proceeded through the court.  On Monday, October 21, Governor Chris Christie withdrew the state’s appeal asking the court to uphold the state ban on same-sex marriage; his administration released a statement that said, “The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

While all of this was going on, the New Jersey General Assembly was once again attempting to pass a veto-proof marriage equality bill because in February 2012 Governor Christie had vetoed the original marriage equality bill and we expected that he would the bill again.  So many people around the country were calling constituents of persuadable legislators to vote for the bill.  With both decisions by the Supreme Court and Governor Christie, the phone calling into New Jersey ended.

Meanwhile, a similar bill for marriage equality is pending in Illinois. And like in New Jersey, the vote for the right to marry is close.  The bill passed the Illinois Senate on February 14, 2013 with 34 yeas and 21 nays; it is now up for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives. And like in New Jersey, supporters of marriage equality are calling into the state to educate constituents about the bill and ask them to call their Representative to vote yes on Senate Bill 10.

The organization coordinating the calls is the National Equity Action Team (NEAT),a coalition of national, state, and local organizations and individuals who mobilize to win the freedom to marry in states with active marriage equality campaigns.”  The coalition organizations include:

NEAT is organizing phone banks two to three times a week for equal access to marriage.  Some of the phone banks are land-based groups of people making calls together at one site (usually NYC, Raleigh, NC, and several sites throughout IL); others are phone calling from the privacy of their homes and are being made throughout the US.

Joanne Phone Banking for Marriage Equality

Joanne Tosti-Vasey making phone calls into New Jersey on October 3, 2013

I have made these calls three times so far. Two were calls into New Jersey and one, so far, was into Illinois.  The first evening I did the calls with several NOW members of my local NOW chapter – Ni-Ta-Nee NOW.  The rest of the calls were made from the privacy of my home.

You too can call for Marriage Equality.  Just go to http://theneat.org and then click on the Volunteer button at the top of the page. The volunteer pages list several opportunities – some group calls and some home-based phone banking through November 10 as of right now.  Check your calendar, click on the dates and times you are available, fill out the information form, and you are on your way!  NEAT will then email you with the details and will provide and computer- and phone-based training.

Join me.  And call for Marriage Equality. Thanks.

IRS Ruling a Victory for Married Same-Sex Couples Across the Country!

Thanks to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service for doing the right thing on August 29. Those of us who live in states, like Pennsylvania, that have their own version of the Defense of Marriage Act (or a constitutional ban in other states on same-sex marriage) will now, at last, have the full federal economic benefits and protections of marriage as long as you were married somewhere that recognizes your marriage. Meanwhile cases challenging state DOMA’s and constitutional bans in federal court on gay marriage need to go forward. The PA ACLU is leading such a case here in Pennsylvania; this groundswell of support for equality WILL succeed. And like in the Loving v. Virginia case, we will eventually have Freedom to Marry for all consenting adults regardless of sexual orientation.

WLP Blog

Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department announced yesterday that the federal government will recognize the marriages of legally married same-sex couples for all federal tax purposes, regardless of where those couples reside.

This landmark ruling comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor in which the Court overturned a key provision (Section 3) of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Section 3 defined the terms “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law as pertaining only to legal unions between one man and one woman.  Yesterday’s announcement clarifies that when it comes to evaluating the federal tax status of same-sex married couples, it is the “place of celebration” – where the wedding took place – that controls, not the state where the couple resides.  Thus, same-sex couples that marry in one of the states where same-sex…

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DOMA and LGBTQ Rights in PA

I just finished reading an article in PhillyNOW, a weekly blog that touts itself as an alternative to the mainstream press in Philadelphia to “bring you news and politics with an attitude, whether you like it or not.”  This article, in light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR overturning the definition of marriage as described in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), calls on the Democratic Party at both the state and national levels to “stand up on LGBT rights.”

I would go even further. Not only should Democrats step forward, but Republicans need to step of to the plate of equal access as well.

It doesn’t matter what party you belong to.

The Declaration of Independence says,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, that they are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The  5th amendment to the Constitution, in part says,

“No person…shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

(FYI, It was this constitutional “due process” amendment that was used to overturn DOMA in yesterday’s majority opinion).

That means equality for all. Including in marriage and an end to hate and discrimination for all, gay or straight.

Our laws need to be changed here in Pennsylvania to live up to the Declaration of Independence and our Constitutional right to democracy and freedom for all. That includes, but are not limited to:

  1. revoking Pennsylvania’s DOMA law;
  2. passing marriage equality;
  3. adding sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as gender, disability, and ancestry (click here and here for current bills) back into PA’s hate crimes law;
  4. adding sexual orientation and gender identity (bill not yet introduced into the PA General Assembly) into PA’s Human Relations Act;
  5. passing the proposed the Pennsylvania Safe Schools (PASS) Act that focuses on bullying and harassment in public schools; and
  6. changing state inheritance tax laws to give the same exemptions to the tax that heterosexual couples have (as far as I can tell, there is no pending legislation in the PA General Assembly to do this).

Let’s do it sooner rather than later. Let’s come together.

Civil Rights Denied: PA’s Proposed Constitutional Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about the dueling marriage equality and same-sex marriage ban bills recently introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Today I thought I give a more detailed argument as to how discriminatory the same-sex marriage ban is to gays and straights alike.

As previously stated, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.  That bill would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania state Constitution – the Declaration of Rights section – to take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Until the spring of 2012, 31 states across the country had created constitutional amendments to outlaw marriage or anything that looks like marriage between same-sex couples. The last successful attempt at this form of discrimination occurred by referendum in North Carolina in the spring of 2012; all other attempts since then to deny marriage equality have failed.

Marriage equality however has had many successes since then. Three states – Delaware, Rhode Island, and Washington – either passed a referendum OR legislation legalizing marriage equality following North Carolina’s referendum. One state – Minnesota—is expected to pass their marriage equality bill today; note, this is only 6 months after the voters in Minnesota by referendum killed their proposed same-sex marriage ban.  And one state – Colorado – passed legislation recognizing civil unions even though they have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Instead of moving forward, right-wing legislators would like to have Pennsylvania join the 31 other states that constitutionally ban-same sex marriages and/or other legal forms of relationships such as domestic partnerships and civil unions.  These Pennsylvanian legislators are making their fourth attack on same-sex couples and on unmarried people – gay or straight.  If HB 1349 passes, Pennsylvania for the first time in its history would enshrine and mandate discrimination into the state Constitution.

This amendment would take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  The way this amendment is written would affect all unmarried couples, victims of domestic violence if they are not married to their abuser, and could threaten Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws

Effect on All Unmarried Couples – Gay or Straight

Currently, Pennsylvania statute recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman.

Pennsylvania does not recognize either (1) same-sex marriages or (2) civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other coupled-household status—whether entered into by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.  Those affected by this amendment would therefore, for example, include senior citizens who live together but are not married because of economic considerations, couples who believe they have a “common law marriage” (which is no longer recognized in Pennsylvania), and gay or straight couples who have any type of intimate relationship.

It could also threaten the lives of unmarried domestic violence victims and allow unmarried individuals to be discriminated against in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Effect on Domestic Violence Victims

In 2004, Ohio passed their discriminatory anti-marriage constitutional amendment, which was quickly and unexpectedly used to deny protections to unmarried victims of domestic violence.  Here’s what happened.  Almost immediately, unmarried batterers argued that since they were not married, Ohio could not enforce their domestic violence law because that was treating their relationship with their partner as “equivalent to marriage.” The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Ohio agreed and ruled that the Ohio domestic violence law runs afoul of the “Defense of Marriage” amendment, passed by voters in 2004, and does not apply to “a person living as a spouse.”  As a result, unmarried defendants, who could have faced felony domestic violence charges, only faced misdemeanor assault charges.    It took several years for the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse this ruling.  In the interim, unmarried women were at the mercy of their batterers in several counties in Ohio.

The Ohio amendment is very similar to that of the one proposed for Pennsylvania.   In Ohio, by providing protection to persons living as spouses,” the domestic violence statutes created a legal status for cohabiting relationships that is “equivalent to a marriage,” according to the appeals court. The appeals court decision in Ohio then denied protection from abuse to unmarried individuals – gay or straight – because the domestic violence law gave legal standing to an unconstitutional relationship – that of an unmarried couple. The courts argument overturning these domestic violence protections utilized similar language found in Pennsylvania’s HB 1439, which states that no other legal union… or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

We have no way of knowing how the courts would rule on a similar argument should this amendment pass and become part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.  Who knows if Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would protect the victim or allow batterers to circumvent Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) law?  We need to protect all people from domestic violence and sexual assault.  Passage of this amendment could deny the protection offered by Pennsylvania’s domestic violence and protection from abuse laws; it could even risk the very lives of unmarried people–gay or straight–because this constitutional amendment denies the rights, privileges, and protections of law to people who are not legally married or who have a relationship that is “functionally equivalent” to traditional marriage.

Effects on Employment, Education, Housing, and Public Accommodations

It also looks like current and proposed employment, education, housing, and public accommodations anti-discrimination laws at both the state and local levels might be jeopardized for unmarried individuals.  Discrimination based on marital status and family responsibilities is unlawful under a variety of existing laws. With a few exceptions, under current state and federal law, people who experience this form of discrimination must fit their claims into an appropriate legal theory—as discrimination based on gender, a violation of family and medical leave laws, or another legal theory.  In addition, many municipalities throughout Pennsylvania have passed or are considering ordinances that would make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, and in some cases, public accommodations specifically based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.   Will the state courts, the PA Human Relations Commission, or local Human Relations Commissions be able to enforce these laws if Pennsylvania’s constitution has been amended to require unmarried couples to be treated differently from married couples?  We do not know.  Passage of HB 1439 as a constitutional amendment could put all of these protections at risk since any person, company, or school could argue that their business is mandated to deny employment, hiring, and benefits to any person who is not married.

Civil Rights Denied, Reiterated

Last, but not least, exclusion, discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. This discriminatory “Marriage Protection Amendment” denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve. Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of this amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

The proposed amendment could also take away existing legal protections for committed long-term couples and their children, such as second parent adoptions, cohabitation agreements, co-parenting agreements, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., regardless of their sexual orientation.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

Let’s all work to stop this bill now!  So I’m once again recommending that you keep up-to-date on this horrible bill as well as other LGBTQ legislation at  Equality Pennsylvania’s website.

PA’s Dueling Marriage Equality and Gay Marriage Ban Bills

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

On April 15, Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Cohen (D-102 Philadelphia) introduced legislation (HB 1178) that would legalize civil unions and extend all state laws applicable to marriage to any civil union created anywhere and to any marriage performed and recognized outside of the state.  Less than one month later, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.

So we once again have a legislative dual going on in Pennsylvania between those that believe in equality for all and those that want to enshrine discrimination into the state Constitution.

Side 1: For Equality

What does Cohen’s bill do?  Very simply, it takes us on the path toward equality for lesbian and gays.  As Rep. Cohen says,

 “This bill would define a civil union as a union between two members of the same sex.  It would make all state laws applicable to marriage also applicable to a civil union.  The bill would also provide for reciprocity of civil unions performed legally in other states and the recognition of same sex marriage in other states as civil unions in Pennsylvania.”

Civil unions represent the middle-of-the-road compromise position between constitutionally banning and permitting gay marriages and have been embraced by both advocates for LGBT rights and a growing number of conservatives.

Nothing in this bill would require any religion or any clergyman to perform any ceremony uniting people in a civil union.  This legislation will merely offer committed gay couples the same legal rights that are bestowed upon married people without the status of marriage.”

I would prefer full marriage equality.  Just like all gay and straight couples in 10 states (plus Minnesota and Delaware if their legislatures pass their marriage equality bills as expected) already have.  And  just like the majority of people in Pennsylvania desire.

In a poll released on May 8 by Franklin and Marshal University, 54% of Pennsylvanians “generally” support while 41% “generally” oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.  In that same poll, 65% support passage of a state law that would allow same-sex couples to legally form civil unions that give them some, if not all, of the marriage rights given to heterosexual couples who marry.

This bill is a compromise.  It currently has 28 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee when it was introduced on April 15.

Side 2: For Discrimination

Meanwhile, Daryl Metcalfe has seen fit to once again try to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution.  It is a one-sentence amendment that has severe ramifications.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Metcalfe justifies this discrimination by invoking partisan politics, a right-wing encroachment on the separation of church and state, and a denial of the protections given to us under the US Constitution:

Pennsylvania does not need to wait for the United States Supreme Court to rule on what natural law already declares as self-evident … Marriage is a sacred bond that can only be fulfilled by one man and one woman, as established by God. Final passage of my legislation will allow state lawmakers to exercise their rightful responsibility and obligation to uphold the rule of law and the will of the people.

The definition of marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman,’ defended and upheld by this legislation, is the traditional definition of marriage that has been recognized and accepted throughout history and the world for centuries. Neither homosexual special interests gathered under the immoral umbrella of the ACLU, nor the Obama administration’s Department of Justice or any activist court should decide this critical issue for our Commonwealth.  House Bill 1349 is specifically written to empower Pennsylvania voters, and only Pennsylvania voters, with the authority to decide how marriage will be defined in the Keystone State.

News reports indicate that Metcalfe may be on the downside of this battle and that combined with the aforementioned Franklin and March poll, there is now less support for this discrimination.  According to the Philly Magazine,

His support system is fleeting. In the last session, the bill had 40 supporters, but today [May 8], according to a rep from [Rep] Brian Sims’ office, there are only 27. And this is the first time it’s been introduced with zero Democratic backers. To top it off, his bill’s lackluster show of support comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that a record number of legislators on both sides of the fence sponsor[ed] legislation that ban[s] discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace and housing and public accommodations [emphasis in original].

Discrimination and inequality are not the principles Pennsylvania was founded upon.

Discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. Metcalfe’s discriminatory amendment, in contrast to Cohen’s call for equality and respect for recognizing loving relationships, denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve.

Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of Metcalfe’s amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

If the US Supreme Court declares this summer that marriage is a right across the country just like they did in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 (see my earlier blogs here and here on this issue) then we won’t need this interim step of civil unions and Metcalfe’s bill will immediately become moot.  A great way, in my opinion to end this duel.  In Pennsylvania and across the country.

So, let’s hope that the US Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8 this summer under the equal protection and due process protections given to us under the US Constitution’s 14th amendment and therefore—like Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia in 1967—protect marriage rights for everyone. If they stop short of that, then let’s hope and advocate for the passage of Representative Cohen’s civil union bill.

Meanwhile, to keep up-to-date on these dueling bills as well as other LGBTQ legislation, check out Equality Pennsylvania’s website.