The Respect Marriage Act may prompt more state action to protect the LGBTQ community in Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Respect Marriage Act has passed both houses of Congress and awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.

As KDKA-TV political editor Jon Delano explains, supporters hope this new federal law will prompt Pennsylvania to enact its own legislation on marriage equality and other rights.

In two cases, Loving and Obergefell, the United States Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to marry for both interracial couples and same-sex couples. Now, the federal Respect for Marriage Act codifies that right in case this Republican-appointed Supreme Court changes its mind on marriage rights like it did on abortion rights.

“This federal law is incredibly important, and I know that LGBTQ2+ people in Pennsylvania share that sentiment,” says state Rep. Jessica Benham, co-chair of the LGBTQ2+ Equality Caucus in the state House of Representatives.

The Respect Marriage Act may prompt more state action to protect the LGBTQ community


Benham says that under this new federal law, no state can deny recognition of a marriage legally performed in another state because of the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the people in that marriage.

“I think our fears are legitimate,” Benham said. “These are scary times, uncertain times. So having those protections codified by the legislature is significant because it doesn’t leave us at the mercy of the whims of the courts.”

Of course, this is a federal law. A 1996 Pennsylvania law banning same-sex marriage is still on the books, though that law was struck down by a federal judge in 2014.

Still, the state never repealed that law or passed its own marriage equality law.

Of the year: “Do you think it’s time for the state legislature to enact its own marriage equality bill?”

Benham: “I think any protection that we can enshrine in law, whether it’s for marriage or other issues that affect the LGBTQ2+ community, any protection that we can enshrine in law is good.”

Pennsylvania also does not yet have a law prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, loans, or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or identity. That’s despite decades of efforts by state Rep. Dan Frankel, author of House Bill 300, Benham says.

“We haven’t seen those anti-discrimination protections enshrined in law yet, so it’s about time. I think it’s important that we ban discrimination in all its forms,” Benham said.

On Thursday, the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved a broader definition of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity, allowing those who feel discriminated against on that basis to file complaints with the state Human Relations Commission. .

“That’s really important right now to make sure that people have recourse if people are being discriminated against. But it’s possible that regulations in the future will change that definition. Without action by the legislature, there’s no guarantee,” Benham says. .

Benham says that with Democrats poised to take control of the state House, there is a better chance of a vote on House Bill 300 in 2023, and he says there is bipartisan support that could help bills against discrimination are passed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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