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LGBTQ protection bills in Pa. still awaiting GOP movement

Despite a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Pennsylvania House and Senate Republican leaders have not brought forward LGBTQ legislation.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Bipartisan legislation which would give housing and accommodation protections for LGBTQ citizens in Pennsylvania has not been addressed, and has no current plans on being brought to a vote in the State House and Senate, despite a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

The nation's highest court voted with a supermajority, 6-3, that not giving workplace or employment protections to someone who identifies as LGBTQ was a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Despite the ruling, Pennsylvania Republican leaders are in no rush to build on the decision to extend protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have a visceral, negative reaction to this, that is mired in misinformation and bigotry," said Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny). 

Frankel and Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), one of two openly LGBTQ lawmakers currently in the legislature, co-sponsored House Bill 1404, nicknamed The Fairness Act, which would amend Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act to include the LGBTQ community. Currently, the Human Relations Act bars discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, nationality, and any physical disabilities, applying to employment, housing, education, and public accommodations.

"No one should be denied a service and then told go somewhere else right?" argued Rafael Alvarez Febo, Director of the Pa. Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. "That`s not American."

Frankel and Sims' bill is currently in the House State Government Committee. Its chairman, Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), was scheduled to speak with FOX43 on Monday. However, the meeting was cancelled and his press secretary wrote, "He does not wish to address the LGBT legislation at this time."

Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler released a statement on the future of any LGBTQ legislation moments after the Supreme Court's decision, when he was still House Majority Leader. He wrote: 

We have never hesitated to say that discrimination, in any form, is wrong. Today’s ruling proves we were correct to be patient and allow the Supreme Court to offer a decision before our General Assembly took any actions. Constructing a law in conformity of the Court’s ruling is certainly possible but may not be necessary. We will take a close look at how the ruling impacts our existing state laws. However, if there are further efforts to amend the existing federal protection laws, they must recognize, as the courts did today, that federal law provides for specific and certain protections for sincerely held religious beliefs. 

"You`re talking about a group of 12 people who are deciding not to get this out of committee. Not to amend the Human Relations Act. Put it to the floor," Febo pleaded.

Two other bills, Republican Senator Pat Browne's (R-Lehigh) SB 224, and Senator Larry Farnese's (D-Philadelphia) SB 614, are sitting in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee.

Its chairwoman, Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) spoke at a PA Youth Congress rally in February in which she expressed support for the bills in her committee. However, the legislation was never brought up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are currently no meetings scheduled.