Pennsylvania candidates — and their stances on LGBTQ issues — take the national stage

John Fetterman; Josh Shapiro

With mere weeks till Election Day, more than ten percent of Pennsylvania voters remain undecided in two of the most critical races in the country: John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz for the U.S. Senate, and Josh Shapiro and Doug Mastriano for governor.

Whoever wins Pennsylvania’s Senate race could determine which party holds a majority in Washington. Whoever is elected governor will not just impact the state — including LGBTQ policy — but will have influence over the 2024 presidential election as well. Mastriano, the GOP gubernatorial candidate who represents the 33rd district in the state senate, is an election denier and was one of those who orchestrated the fake electors scheme in 2020. Mastriano also participated in the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, but did not breach the Capitol. 

Statistics show Republican women voters in the Keystone state have changed parties in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade. But as the election nears and inflation and the economy have replaced abortion rights as a main driver for voters, the Pennsylvania race for Senate has now become a statistical tie between Fetterman and Oz, according to Oct. 18 polls. And while the gap between gubernatorial candidates Democrat Josh Shapiro, the current Attorney General and Mastriano has widened, voters in the state have long been quixotic in midterm election years.  

Pennsylvanians watching the Phillies playoffs were treated to a barrage of anti-Democrat ads from the right. Throughout the race for Senate, Fetterman has been portrayed as soft on crime. But in writing about these latest ads, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch called them “the most shockingly crude and, arguably, racist political ads since Willie Horton hit the small screen in 1988” in a column. His research revealed they are the work of “the pro-Trump America First Legal Foundation, which is spearheaded by Stephen Miller” the former Trump speechwriter and consigliere on immigration. 

On October 3, PGN reached out to all four candidates for Senate and Governor: Fetterman, Oz, Mastriano, and Shapiro, to ask their stances on marriage equality and LGBTQ rights issues. Fetterman’s campaign responded Oct. 3, Shapiro’s on Oct. 4. PGN submitted seven requests to Oz’s team, as well as a half-dozen requests via Twitter in which we cited Fetterman’s swift reply, but received no response. PGN also submitted five requests to Mastriano and messaged him a half dozen times, to no avail.

In what ABC News referred to as a “carefully controlled” campaign stop in Harmony, PA on the Oct. 18 nightly news broadcast, Mary Bruce, ABC News Senior White House Correspondent, also tried to get a response from Oz, but got none. Oz doesn’t want to answer questions about himself when he is pushing a narrative that Fetterman is both a “dangerous radical leftist” and mentally incompetent due to a stroke in May. 

Yet Dr. Oz has not provided any clear policy positions other than to say repeatedly that “All abortion is murder.” In July the Philadelphia Inquirer reported “Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz indicates he’d vote yes on same-sex marriage bill.” The Inquirer quoted Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick, who said, “Dr. Mehmet Oz believes that same-sex couples should have the same freedom to get married as straight couples,” in response to whether Oz supports The Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify same-sex marriage at the federal level. 

Despite his views on same-sex marriage, Oz has repeatedly made anti-LGBTQ comments throughout his campaign, and in ads he states he would fight to “get men out of women’s sports,” a reference to the anti-trans stance the GOP has taken against participation of trans women and girls in team sports. Oz also supports conversion therapy

Conversely, Fetterman has a long history of support for the LGBTQ community. As his campaign told PGN, Fetterman has worked for state and local laws to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination, he fought to lift restrictions on men who have sex with men from donating blood, and he has been a staunch supporter of adoption rights for LGBTQ couples. 

The campaign told PGN that Fetterman had recently celebrated the 9 year anniversary since he officiated the first same-sex marriage in Allegheny County in defiance of Pennsylvania’s then-ban on same-sex marriage. 

“[On August 5, 2013], I became the first and ONLY elected official in western PA willing to officiate a gay marriage when it was illegal,” Fetterman said in a statement. “John [Kandray] and Bill [Gray] bravely defied fundamentally unjust laws banning same-sex marriage and decided to just do it. With only hours to prepare, it was my great honor to put on my finest cargo shorts and black Dickies work shirt, pick up a rainbow cake from Costco, and marry them in my unfinished loft surrounded by their family and friends.

“When right-wing extremists come after marriage equality and trans rights, I will fight it with everything I’ve got – including the guy I’m running to replace who STILL claims to remain ‘undecided’ on whether to support a bipartisan law to defend the right to a same-sex marriage.

“My opponent cannot be trusted to stand up at all for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians. Dr. Oz gave advocates of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ a national platform on his television show, praised ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills, and denied causes of suicide risk to trans youth. It’s never been more urgent to pass the PA Fairness Act and the Respect for Marriage Act. When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, I will fight to scrap the filibuster so we can finally pass the equality act to guarantee LGBTQ+Americans equal protection under the law.” 

Fetterman has also said he would be the “51st vote” in support of The Respect for Marriage Act.

The official Republican Party platform, unchanged since 2016, still defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Doug Mastriano has been quoted in numerous campaign ads as saying he is against marriage equality, a stance he reiterated in his acceptance speech after his primary win. In that speech, Mastriano also made snide transphobic allusions to former PA Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, now assistant Secretary of HHS in the Biden administration. 

Mastriano has said of marriage equality, “Absolutely not. I’m for traditional marriage and I am not a hater for saying it.” 

Mastriano also said it’s “disgusting” to discourage conversion therapy for LGBTQIA+ youths. “This is disgusting to me, where bureaucrats and Tom Wolf — and Josh Shapiro — think it’s okay to come in and threaten parents and therapists because their kids might be confused,” Mastriano said to conservative talk radio station 103.7 FM radio host Michele Jansen on August 26, 2022. As Salon reported, Mastriano “spent a good portion of his segment talking about conversion therapy for LGBTQIA+ youths.”

Democratic nominee Shapiro told PGN, “If your child is LGBTQ+, Doug Mastriano supports sending them to conversion therapy because he believes they’re ‘confused.’ I’m serious. He said it himself — and it’s our responsibility as parents to defend our kids’ freedom to be themselves.” 

Shapiro’s campaign told PGN, “Josh Shapiro has been a strong supporter of LGBT Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, unlike his opponent, who is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and any legal support for LGBTQ people.”

The campaign added, “Doug Mastriano is a threat to the LGBTQ+ community in Pennsylvania. As governor, he will attack their rights to marry and adopt.” 

Shapiro has been consistently supportive of and vocal about LGBTQ issues, including sharing his support on social media. “As State Representative, I fought to strengthen LGBTQ+ protections under law,” Shapiro posted on Twitter. “As Commissioner, I married some of Pennsylvania’s first LGBTQ+ couples. As Attorney General, I’ve defended the rights of LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians time and time again.”

The last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania in person or online is Oct. 24. All mail-in ballots are due on Nov. 8, and polls are open Nov. 8 until 8:00 p.m. 

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.