Support for gay marriage grows, Pennsylvania poll shows

Lawmaker says change in views on equality spurred by more exposure

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A poll conducted earlier this year by Susquehanna Polling and Research shows that more than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians support banning discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.

The most recent Franklin & Marshall College poll reinforces those results, showing support for gay marriage among Pennsylvanians to be growing with 54 percent in favor, up from 33 percent in 2006, and 41 percent opposed, down from 60 percent in 2006.

Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, the first openly gay member voted into the Pennsylvania Legislature, said the biggest reason for the change in views on LGBT equality is the exposure people now have to those of a different sexual orientation.

"The amount of people coming out has skyrocketed, and the level of invisibility made it foreign to people. It used to be 'them' and 'they,' but now it is 'we' and 'us,' " he said. "I think LGBT rights in Pennsylvania are inevitable. The question is, when is it going to happen?"

Despite the growing number of Pennsylvanians who support the passage of legislation to provide LGBT people equal protection from discriminatory practices, action has been slow in the statehouse.

"It is very perplexing," said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill. "I think the Legislature is much more conservative than the rest of the state. You see it on guns, you see it on women's reproductive rights, and you see it on LGBT rights."

Mr. Frankel has sponsored bills in each of the last five legislative sessions that would make it unlawful to fire someone, refuse service in a business or deny housing based on sexual orientation.

While Mr. Frankel's bill has yet to make it to the floor for a vote, it has gained support in each session.

When the bill was first introduced in 2001 it had just 25 co-sponsors, but has steadily gained support in the House, with 77 co-sponsors in 2011, seven of which were Republicans. Mr. Frankel expects to have more than 80 co-sponsors when he introduces the bill again next week.

"It is very hard for the speaker to ignore the fact that at least 80 bipartisan members have signed on publicly as sponsors of the bill. That would tell you that there is significant interest and support for the bill," Mr. Frankel said. "I think it is an embarrassment that Pennsylvania's elected officials have been an obstacle in accomplishing what will happen in due time.

"Hopefully Pennsylvania won't be the last state to provide equal rights for LGBT people, but we certainly will be late for the game."

In the 2011 session, Mr. Frankel's bill was referred to the House State Government Committee, which is chaired by Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry. Mr. Metcalfe has been an ardent supporter of traditional marriage, introducing a constitutional amendment in the past two legislative sessions that would ban same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, and said he would not let the bill leave his committee if it came up again this year.

"I don't believe there will be enough support to pass that bill," Mr. Metcalfe said. "I don't support it. I am not planning on bringing it up for a vote."

Mr. Frankel hopes to get his bill referred to a different committee this year, where he thinks it will have a better chance of passing.

"We'd like it to go to a committee where we'd get a fair hearing," he said. "We think it could go to the judicial committee, the labor committee or the education committee."

Currently, 30 local governments in Pennsylvania have nondiscrimination laws pertaining to LGBT people, and Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast in which it is still legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation.

"The question is, how soon will Pennsylvania's elected officials come to the same realization that they ought to be on the right side of history and move forward to provide equal rights for all Pennsylvanians?" Mr. Frankel said. "It is the last vestige of legalized discrimination, the ability to discriminate against LGBT people."

electionspa - state - lifestyle

Josh Fatzick is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.


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