Removing homosexuality from Pennsylvania’s felony code is a start, advocates say. But more needs to be done

State lawmakers removed depictions of homosexuality from the list of illegal sexual acts in Pennsylvania’s criminal codes. But some activists believe this is just the first step towards equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The State House and Senate unanimously approved The law projectsponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, and it was quickly signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf last week.

Many activists and lawmakers have applauded the bipartisan support for the bill, but said they want to see new commitments from the Republican-led General Assembly to protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians, especially passing statewide anti-discrimination laws.

“This bill corrects a serious error in our law — especially at a time when many LGBTQ Pennsylvanians feel they face an uncertain future, Pennsylvania Youth Congress executive director Preston Heldibridle said in a statement. .

Wording in the state criminal code came from the state’s former anti-buggery law. The 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas struck down all of the state’s remaining anti-sodomy laws, but language criminalizing depictions of homosexuality remained in the Criminal Code, calling them “obviously offensive”.

Heldibridle thanked the Legislative Assembly for taking this step, but said there was still a lot of work to do.

“Now that the General Assembly has agreed, unanimously in both houses, that LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are not lewd, they must take the next step to ensure equal dignity before the law by embracing protectionism of no -LGBTQ inclusive discrimination,” Heldibridle said.

Anti-discrimination laws aim to protect groups of people against discrimination in various aspects of life, for example employment opportunities. Municipalities have the ability to adopt local LGBTQ+ discrimination policies and create commissions to enforce those policies, according to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1995.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission will accept complaints of LGBTQ+ discrimination on the basis of gender discrimination in current law, according to the Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. So is the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section.

Around 70 of the Commonwealth’s 2,562 municipalities have adopted their own anti-discrimination? laws — more than any other state in the nation, according to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress — but the General Assembly has yet to pass an explicit statewide LGBTQ+-inclusive anti-discrimination law.

A long sought after invoice, known as the Fairness Act, provides these protections. But it has yet to see a vote by the House state government committee, which currently has the legislation.

Thomas Ude, director of legal and public policy at the Mazzoni Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides health and wellness services to the LGBTQ community, said it would take an agreement from both sides to the aisle to pass an anti-discrimination law. in Harrisburg.

“It’s an important law that has been passed, it updates these provisions,” Ude said. “I think it would be nice if there were more. There are many other areas where there is work to be done.

Stephen Jiwanmall, director of communications for the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, also said there was more to be desired from this simple change.

“The criminalization of LGBTQ+ experiences and identities has no place in Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” Jiwanmall said. “We are grateful for Governor Wolf’s continued support for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians, and we continue to urge state lawmakers to pass the Equity Act, which would bring meaningful reform and protection to our communities. Facing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is the real crime.

State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia Democrat and co-sponsor of the Equity Act, is one of the few members to identify the LGBTQ+ community in the state legislature. He supported this bill as a welcome element of bipartisanship.

“I hope this will be another step towards de-stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and protecting the community from possible future court rulings,” Kenyatta said.

He added that “removing homosexuality from the penal code was about two centuries late, but it’s still a big deal. I hope this will be another step towards destigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and protecting the community from possible future court rulings.

He referenced U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ recommendation that the court reconsider the decision in Lawrence v. Texas in its agreement to set aside Roe v. Wade in early June.

“If the court did that and had that language remained in the penal code, it would have posed a serious threat to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians,” Kenyatta said.

In a statement, Stephens, the bill’s sponsor, said his approval was “long in coming, too long. No one in the LGBTQ community should be considered a criminal because of who they love. »

“Love should never be illegal,” Stephens added.

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