Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) announced Tuesday that he was “coming out in support” of a bill that would create nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In his statement, Corbett claimed that he did not previously realize that the LGBT community was not protected by federal laws:
CORBETT: I’ve had people come and talk to me about how they were discriminated against. The federal government has antidiscrimination laws. I believed they covered it.
The sweeping protections bill introduced this year is not the first of its kind. Indeed, there were more recent versions, such as in 2009, but such bills have been introduced since 1976. Philly.com notes that Corbett served for eight years as the state’s attorney general — the state’s chief law enforcement officer — and that the legislation “has languished in the General Assembly for a decade,” begging the question of just how unaware he was that no LGBT protections existed. During a 2010 gubernatorial debate, he claimed that “we already have the laws on the books” to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, even though his opponent had just explained why the laws were still needed.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, this is a mistake many others have made. In fact, polls show that as many as 90 percent of the country mistakenly believe that federal law protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination, even though only 21 states protect sexual orientation and only 17 protect gender identity. Just this month, a Pennsylvania Catholic school fired a veteran teacher for marrying his same-sex partner in New Jersey, which state Sen. Daylin Leach (D) suggested would have been illegal under the proposed legislation, though that’s not technically true because of the bill’s religious exemptions. Unfortunately, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R), a fervent opponent of LGBT equality who believes that same-sex marriage is “open rebellion against God’s law,” chairs the committee that controls the fate of the bill in the House. Corbett said that he believes it would receive support from “both sides of the aisle” — in addition to a February poll showing 72 percent support for the measure statewide — but that optimism does not address Metcalfe’s obstruction.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has similarly claimed that LGBT employment protections are “unnecessary,” which is why he won’t allow the House to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would finally create federal workplace protections for the LGBT community. Both of Pennsylvania’s Senators, Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R), supported ENDA when it passed the Senate last month. Pennsylvania’s proposed legislation would protect not only employment, but housing and public accommodations as well.
Corbett supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, and even opposes civil unions. His administration is paying lawyers $400 an hour at taxpayer expense to defend the state’s law banning same-sex marriage, and those lawyers are invasively prying into the lives of the families who filed the suit. In October, Corbett laughingly compared same-sex relationships to incest between a brother and a sister, for which he later apologized.