What a bizarre twist of events.
Virginia does not include sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression as protected classes in the state's anti-discrimination laws. Some Universities, Colleges and private employers in Virginia do include some or all of these classes.
Recently, the Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) issued a legal opinion aka warning to the public academic community (recipients of state funding) that they could not unilaterally broaden the protected classes, something many students have worked tirelessly to accomplish. Response from the student community and groups like the Young Democrats was swift.
Response from nearby Maryland was swift, too. Maryland State Senator Richard S. Madaleno (D-Montgomery) issued this statement with regard to an employer deciding between Maryland and Virginia (all about the jobs!)
Madaleno, who is gay, wrote that new Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) are “turning back the clock” on gay rights, as Maryland's attorney general has announced the state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Virginia voters in 2006 amended the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage.
Virginia Governor McDonnell blinked and decided to the “right” thing by issuing a useless directive instructing Virginians not to discriminate against LGBT persons. It has no enforcement-ability. It is a move designed to pander to the business community (“Please don't go to the state that has actual tolerance!”) without protecting Virginia residents.
Virginia's legislature, on the other hand, tried to actually make discrimination against gays illegal.
Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) also rose to address the House, recalling his parents and grandparents' stories of anti-Semitic discrimination by employers. Englin said the state must act to protect Virginia's reputation as a desirable place to do business because some companies might see the state as intolerant.
“Let there be no mistake – Ken Cuccinelli wants to hang a sign in front of the public colleges and universities of this Commonwealth that reads 'Gays need not apply,'” Englin said.
But Del. Robert Marshall, (R-Prince William) argued that gay people needed no “special protections” and said that the term “sexual orientation” was so broad that it would protect behaviors that could not be discussed in public.
Sound familiar? Well, it should, dear reader. Because Pennsylvania is not the far removed from this scenario.
Lack of protections in Pennsylvania? Yes, it is legal to refuse housing, fire people and kick them out of restaurants because we are gay or trans. A friend reported that this recently happened to her uncle in Beaver County. And there's not a damn thing he can do about it. CHECK
Universities with expanded protections? Yes, this has been an issue of contention but some public (and many private) Universities and Colleges include these classes in their anti-discrimination protections. CHECK
Wingnut Attorney General? CHECK
State threats against academic institutions? Yes, in 1999 the Commonwealth passed a law that exempted universities from providing domestic partner benefits in spite of municipal non-discrimination ordinances. Pitt eventually did the right thing, but the precedent for the State Government to meddle has been established. CHECK
Pending legislation? Legislation (HB 300) sits in the House awaiting movement. It will amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include gender identity, sexual orientation and gender presentation. Meanwhile, the Senate has for the third time introduced legislation to amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. CHECK
Differences? Our wingnut AG is running for Governor. The three main contenders for the Democratic endorsement all state support for HB 300. Wagner has an established, albeit uneven, voting record on LGBT issues but not support full LGBT equality. Onorato has no voting record, has taken no action to offer domestic partner benefits to his own employees and does not support full LGBT equality. By “full LGBT equality” I mean marriage.
Joe Hoeffel has an established voting record. Employees in his County have domestic partner benefits. He supports full and total equality for the LGBT community.
Based on their records, not their promises, who do you think is most likely to issue a “directive” rather than lead government to legalize equality?
To being the Virginia analogy full circle, who among these three men do you think will create a culture in Pennsylvania that welcomes businesses who value tolerance and equality because they need to attract the best and the brightest? Maryland is not that far away from Pennsylvania. Can we really risk losing employers and well-paying jobs by electing a Governor who will not stand FIRM against attempts to take us backwards?
We don't need marriage equality tomorrow to continue being economically viable. We do need an Executive Branch that is proactive in creating a more tolerant state culture for everyone.
Virginia is only for certain lovers. Let's make Pennsylvania for everyone. Joe Hoeffel for Governor. Donate today. Your $10 can make a difference.
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