Jurassic Legislature: As gays marry, lawmakers won’t protect their rights

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The poor performance of the state Legislature has a number of telltale markers, but its refusal to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to address discrimination based on sexual orientation has lately become one of the most glaring. It has added unfairness to the list of legislative failings.

Worse yet, lawmakers have no excuse. Thanks to the ruling of a federal judge, this year same-sex couples have finally been allowed to marry and they have rushed to do so. Public opinion hasn’t condemned them; indeed, the self-evident joy of these unions has largely drained the controversy. What seemed to some as strange has quickly become commonplace.

In light of this sea change in social attitudes, the principle that gays and lesbians should be able to live normal lives with the same legal rights as others shouldn’t even be an issue. But in the state Capitol, those charged with the future of Pennsylvania still work as if their calendars never advance from the past and its musty old prejudices.

For the remnant still operating on those old hatreds, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act has long prohibited certain practices of discrimination — such as in employment, housing and public accommodation — because of such factors as race, color, religious creed, ancestry, handicap or disability, age, sex or national origin. It is now entirely logical to add sexual orientation to this list.

The measures to do this are House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300. But as the Post-Gazette reported Sunday, these vehicles for progress have gone nowhere. They might as well be in the pound, because they’ve sat in committees for over a year.

A new era has arrived, but it’s the same old, same old from Harrisburg. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican from Cranberry known for his hostility to gays, stands ready to do nothing as chairman of the House State Government Committee, where HB 300 has gone to die.

Religious freedom is already protected by the legislation. As with so much else it can’t bring itself to do, the Legislature has no excuse for still thinking some Pennsylvanians don’t deserve the same protections as others. No excuse, just shame.

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