PA Senate Republicans reject LGBTQ resolution

Sen. Santarsiero speaking in the PA Senate surrounded by the Democratic caucus

Democratic Pennsylvania State Sen. Steve Santarsiero introduced a Unanimous Consent Resolution last week to establish Feb. 15 as Love is Love Day in the Commonwealth, at the request of Planned Parenthood’s LGBTQ+-centered Rainbow Room program in Doylestown. Senate Republicans failed to unanimously support the proposed resolution. 

“It was really important from my perspective for these kids to know that the state legislature supports them and values them and wants them to know that they are important members of our community,” Santarsiero said. “It’s really sad that we couldn’t get unanimous support in the Pennsylvania State Senate to get behind those ideas. That should not be controversial.” 

Santarsiero and Democratic State Rep. Wendy Ullman initially authored the resolution in light of the Rainbow Room’s queer prom, “Love is Love,” taking place on Feb. 15 at the James A. Michener Art Museum. 

Instead of a full senate resolution, Santarsiero issued a caucus-wide proclamation in which Democratic senators expressed their support for Love is Love Day. They plan to present this to the Rainbow Room. 

In his speech in the Pennsylvania Senate, Santarsiero spoke about the lack of acceptance that many young LGBTQ people experience around Valentine’s Day.

An excerpt from the Senate Democrats’ proclamation reads: “Whereas, being an adolescent during a time when those around you are expressing their love for each other can be overwhelming, especially if you do not see examples you identify with…” 

A Unanimous Consent Resolution differs from a bill in that it usually does not have to do with the law but instead can recognize causes like social movements or historical events. 

“Unanimous Consent Resolutions are things that the author assumes wouldn’t generate any opposition,” said J.P. Kurish, a spokesperson for Sen. Larry Farnese. 

If a resolution gains unanimous support, it is monitored by a member of staff and then sent to the floor for a voice vote, explained Jennifer Kocher, communications director for the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader, Republican Jake Corman.   

Recently, Republicans changed the process for Unanimous Consent Resolutions.

Members of the Senate started objecting to proposed resolutions, which created controversy, thus nullifying their unanimous nature, Kocher said.

When the Jan. 27 resolution honoring Kobe Bryant generated controversy, Republican senators moved to have all resolutions go through the committee process as bills do, which involves hearings and could take months or years. Santarsiero introduced the resolution with one day left before both the Senate and the House finished convening for the session. As such, the resolution did not have time to undergo the committee process.

“As is practice, we do try to work with all sides trying to get things back to unanimous consent if we can,” Kocher said.

This is not the first time that Pennsylvania Republicans failed to unanimously vote in favor of LGBTQ-focused resolutions. Previous senate resolutions calling for June to be LGBTQ Pride Month failed to pass due to a lack of Republican support.  

Kocher also explained that while resolutions like this one may not have gained unanimous support, senators can still publicly speak about their significance. 

“People still have that opportunity like Sen. Santarsiero did to get up on the floor and speak about it — honor those people,” Kocher said. “It becomes a part of the record and of the journal.” 

Santarsiero told PGN it’s not only the Love is Love Day resolution that is of import and the cause of dissension between Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg, noting the need to pass legislation in Pennsylvania deeming it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. 

“It’s not acceptable that members of the LGBTQ community can be discriminated against, that there’s no legal recourse,” he said. “If we’re going to change these things, we need to have a strong grassroots movement to put pressure on legislators of Harrisburg to make a difference.”