Fired for Getting Married: The Very Real Dilemma Currently Facing PA’s LGBT Community
On May 20, 2014, a federal court district judge in Pennsylvania struck down Pennsylvania’s same sex marriage ban. While there were questions about whether or not Governor Corbett would appeal the decision, he ended up explicitly stating that he would not appeal the decision. The appeal would have to have been filed by Thursday, June 20.
A Register of Wills from Schuylkill County, Theresa Santai-Gaffney, requested the U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III put a hold on his decision so she could appeal the case to the Third Circuit. She argued that she had standing because it affected her rights and duties as an elected official to carry out Pennsylvania law. The Judge instead found that Santai-Gaffney was not harmed by the decision and had no standing to claim that she was. Santai-Gaffney is appealing the decision to the Third Circuit and requesting that it halt Pennsylvania same sex marriage until the appeal is decided.
Regardless of whether Santai-Gaffney can successfully prove that she was both harmed and that she has standing, and then that the ruling should not be upheld, the law of the land for now in Pennsylvania is that same sex marriage is permitted. Countless happy couples have been married since the decision was handed down in May.
Unfortunately for these couples, and for the entirety of Pennsylvania, is the fact that while people can now enter into same sex marriage on a Saturday, they could walk into the door at their workplaces on Monday and find out they no longer have a job because of their orientation. There is no federal or statewide ban on discrimination based on orientation or sexual identity, and it’s time for that to change in Pennsylvania.
While there is no statewide discrimination law, many of the largest cities in Pennsylvania have enacted their own discrimination laws, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Of the fifteen largest Pennsylvania cities, only Altoona, Wilkes-Barre, and Willliamsport have no laws in place of any kind protecting members of the LGBT community from discrimination. While it is good that protections are offered by individual municipalities, Pennsylvania needs to enact a statewide law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals, especially regarding employment and housing. The piecemeal approach currently used in Pennsylvania leaves many of the state’s residents, especially those in rural counties, without any meaningful protections.
There is bipartisan support for such a law, and a house bill is currently stuck in the State Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, (R-Butler), a staunch opponent of LGBT rights. It is unlikely to pass prior to the end of this year.
But for people who are discriminated against now, what protections are there? There is mounting support for bringing claims under Title VII sex discrimination, arguing that someone was discriminated against based on sex because they did not fit the Defendant’s definitions for appropriate gender roles. Success based on this argument has been mixed across the country, and it clearly does not offer sufficient protection. It is time for Pennsylvania to protect the LGBT community, an important part of Pennsylvania, from vicious discrimination with a statewide law.