Pa. House Republicans will never introduce an equality bill

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State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery).

When State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta drove around Pennsylvania last year and stressed the need for Democrats to regain control of the state legislature, he understood a sad reality: Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature will never allow an LGBTQ equality bill to be voted on. It’s the same reason that the Mitch McConnell-led U.S. Senate never brought the Equality Act to the floor, despite the fact that the House passed it easily. They’re afraid that a majority of legislators might actually vote for, you know, equality. 

They’re afraid legislators might actually vote so that landlords won’t be able to kick people out for being LGBTQ; they’re afraid legislators might actually vote so that LGBTQ people can’t be turned away at homeless shelters or food banks; they’re afraid that legislators might actually vote for LGBTQ people to have the exact same rights as non-LGBTQ people.

Pennsylvania remains the only state in the northeast without statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. And it’s going to stay that way until Democrats take control of the legislature.

On Tuesday, every single Pa. House Republican voted against amending the state constitution to extend equal protection under the law for LGBTQ individuals. And they gave a great lesson in political spin.

Just before the vote, Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) stated that the manner in which the amendment was introduced would mean that it couldn’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

“I want the record to be clear, I am fully supportive of the protections that we should provide, under Pennsylvania law, for the protected classes delineated in this amendment” Stephens said on the House floor. He went on to say that “we can consider a separate resolution to adopt this as a constitutional amendment or we could consider a bill to enshrine this in our statutes, which frankly would be much faster, because a bill could be on the governor’s desk within a few weeks, for sure, rather than delaying this until 2023.”

Later, Rep. Kerry Bennighoff (R-Centre & Mifflin), said “To all the members that have spoke on this amendment, I commend you for your professional and heartfelt delivery. I think it is healthy for all of us to hear those different perspectives.” Benninghoff went on to agree with Stephens’ remarks that the amendment was “not appropriate” at this time.

Then, as is always the case with Pennsylvania Republicans, the amendment on LGBTQ equality did not go through.

Democrats have tried many times to push through an LGBTQ rights bill in Harrisburg. The reason they’ve had to resort to measures such as including amendments in other bills is because Republicans refuse to allow an actual floor vote on standalone LGBTQ legislation.

Bills such as expanded hate crimes legislation have been introduced in Harrisburg for years but have never received a floor vote from the Republican-majority. It’s the exact same case today.

Pennsylvania Republicans have used yet another excuse to not vote for LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation. It’s not likely that their behavior will change. Not unless people like Todd Stephens and other Republicans stand up to their leadership and start to demand floor votes on LGBTQ legislation. Sadly, it’s doubtful that will ever happen. Pennsylvania Republicans are some of the most partisan in the country. Last year, they tried their best to suppress the vote to ensure Donald Trump’s victory. And unless they have a come-to-Jesus moment and decide to do the right thing and put these LGBTQ bills to a vote, we can expect more of the same for the next two years.

It’s sad, really, that these politicians can’t muster the courage to actually vote on LGBTQ rights legislation. They’re afraid they’ll be branded as homophobic if they vote no, so it’s easier to just not vote at all. That way they can claim they support LGBTQ rights, or claim that they have an open mind, without any action. Hopefully people have learned to see past such stagecraft. 

Let’s be perfectly clear: any Pennsylvania Republican who does not demand that their leadership put a LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill to the floor is not a friend to the LGBTQ community. They’re just talk.