Equal Rights in Pennsylvania

Last week, I shared a graphic from The Guardiandepicting the fact that Pennsylvania as a Commonwealth has extended zero benefits to its LGBTQ residents (and tax payers.)

From The Guardian

I’ve been challenged – on the fact that a State Surpreme Court determined that as PA permits single persons to adopt, they cannot use sexual orientation of the second parent to prohibit adoption. This was a landmark victory. Ten years ago.

Ten years ago.

And in the ensuing ten years, it has not been written into law. So here is what actually can happen – your family petitions the judge to waive the rules and permit two persons of the same gender to adopt. The judge can say NO. They probably won’t and if they do, you can appeal. But that’s not the same thing as a right.  Its not equality. The adoption hearing should be a joyous occasion.

I was also challenged because the quality of our lives does not depend upon the state recognizing our rights. I agree that rights are not recognized, not created. But in reality, most Pennsylvania LGBTQ families do not have the resources and privilege to weather being mistreated or unrecognized.

So what? Well, here’s what – there is good news. Currently, Pennsylvania has 28 antiddiscrimination ordinances on the municipal level.  Thanks to Equality PA for the information.

This is great. We may actually have the most in the nation. But consider this: Pennsylvania is divded into 67 counties, only one of which is also a city (Philadelphia.)  We have 56 cities, 958 boroughs, 1547 municipalities and one town.

In some cases, the municipal law covers multiple entities – like Allegheny County’s ordinance extends to each munipality, borough and so forth in the County. Thus, the second best case scenario is that all 67 counties pass non-discrimination ordinances. That could be a nightmare of slight differences and legal questions about what applies where and not to mention – multiple bureacracies.

The “best” case scenario is a statewide law that includes everyone and treats all of us with the same regard, respect and protection. HB300 is that legislation. It is sitting in the State House Committee and most likely will not move before this session ends. But I know it will be back – whatever happens.

And the good thing is that you can take action. You don’t have to sit patiently and wait for someone to recognize your rights and the rights of your family.  A few suggestions

  • Call your state representative and your state senator to go on the record asking for them to support this legislation. Even better, WRITE to them or visit their office. Take your children – good learning experience for them.
  • Do you belong to an LGBTQ group, maybe a bowling league or a parenting group? Perhaps you can take a few moments to bring this up. It definitely applies to every single LGBTQ person in this state. Forward a link, bring postcards to your next potluck or invite someone from your legislator’s office to attend an event.
  • Write a letter to the editor. People read those. A lot. You have everything from your local patch com to the mainstream newspapers to choose among. Here’s my twitter list of over 105 regional media folks and outlets. Follow them. Send them links about LGBTQ events in their neck of the woods. You can use the list without adding all 100+ people to your twitter account … just go to twitter and “follow” the list itself. Its a great way to seize the moments.
  • Do you need a Gov 101 refresher? Can you name your state senator and do you know what the difference is between her and your US Senator? Project VoteSmart has a good online tool for you to use.  Bookmark when you need a refresher.

    Photo Credit Thomas C. Waters

The most important thing is to make the leap from being concerned/aware to action. Action is what led to each of these municipalities extending their protections. It starts with anything as simple as calling your elected official to making time for a meeting. And using your social media power to prod/encourage others to take action.

Last week was historic. It was wonderful to hear President Obama affirm his support of marriage equality, but remember – he said it is a state level issue. And last week we also witnessed the brutal vote for Amendment 1 which defines marriage in North Carolina – an amendment that is going to devastate hundreds of thousands of people who are not married, gay and straight. That’s almost the exact same language in the proposed PA amendment which is also sitting in the the House State Government Committee.

I realize how complicated this is, but Pennsylvania has recognized ZERO rights. That’s a pretty fundamental fact. If you don’t do anything, that’s not going to change. And your children – our children – deserve better.