Governor Corbett Announces Support of LGBT Nondiscrimination Legislation

Governor Tom Corbett recently announced his support of HB 300, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act which will provide protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. This statement may come as a surprise to Pennsylvanians, as Corbett’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been well publicized over the past year.

The Philadelphia Gay News reported that a meeting was held in October between Corbett and Mark Segal, publisher of PGN, and representatives of several LGBTQ organizations, including the HRC and the PERSAD Center in Pittsburgh. Segal said that Corbett’s administration has been discussing publicly supporting the bill for the past three years. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Corbett said he previously believed the federal government protected against LGBTQ discrimination, despite having served three terms as Attorney General.

Corbett was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit between the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the state government over the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage. When asked about his position on marriage equality in August, Corbett first compared it to a marriage between twelve year olds, before retracting that statement in October and saying, “It was an inappropriate analogy, you know… I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?” Corbett issued an awkward apology video after his comments went viral, and said he meant to compare only the legal stature of same-sex marriage with incest. Corbett was released as a defendant from the lawsuit in November, and has stayed quiet on the matter since then. He reiterated in his interview with the Inquirer today that he still does not support marriage equality.

Corbett’s support on HB 300 is not entirely unprecedented; he renewed the Schapp Order, which protects state government employees from discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. In 1974, Governor Milton Shapp signed an executive order banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation in state employment, making Pennsylvania the first state in the country to have any form of employment protection based upon sexual orientation. In 2011, Ohio’s Republican Governor, John Kasulich, allowed a similar executive order to expire, and later renewed it without protection based upon gender identity.

Regardless of Corbett’s support for HB 300, the law is unlikely to go anywhere while it is in the State Government Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, an outspoken opponent of any legislation in support of LGBTQ individuals. Corbett reportedly shrugged and said he did not know how to overcome Metcalfe’s stalling of the bill when asked by the Inquirer.

Corbett is far from the first Republican Governor to support LGBTQ inclusive  nondiscrimination legislation. Wisconsin was the first state to protect against discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation in 1982. Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus signed the bill into law, despite a religious fundamentalist campaign urging him to veto the bill, citing the “fundamental Republican principle that government should have a very restricted involvement in people’s private and personal lives.”

This announcement comes four days after the annual gathering of the Pennsylvania Society, a weekend seen by many state leaders as one of the most important barometers to measure support for political candidates. Corbett’s approval ratings have steadily dropped through 2013, and his administration is likely anticipating an uphill battle for reelection. When the Pennsylvania General Assembly concludes session today, the state legislature will be on winter recess until January 7. When legislators return to Harrisburg in 2014, advocates will be able to access the impact of Corbett’s statement of support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination.