Pennsylvania gives few legal shields to LGBT Community

By Brandon Addeo| The Duquesne Duke

Businesses in Indiana are not allowed to refuse service to homosexuals, following a backlash which has brought revisions to Indiana’s new religious freedom law.

In Pennsylvania, businesses are free to discriminate as they wish, and there is no overarching law to stop them.

According to Duquesne law professor Bruce Ledewitz, Pennsylvania does not have a statewide law that prevents businesses from discriminating against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“[You see] all these stories about businesses that don’t serve gays,” Ledewitz said. “Businesses in most of Pennsylvania are free to do that now, to discriminate.”

Pennsylvania’s religious freedom law, passed in 2002, gives individuals, non-profit organizations and religious organizations protection from laws that would infringe on their religious beliefs, according to Ledewitz. Some religions oppose homosexual behavior and marriage, and could try to use the law to act on those beliefs.

For-profit businesses are not protected in this law, but there is no state law which would force a business to violate any religious beliefs, according to Ledewitz.

Pittsburgh is one of a few cities in Pennsylvania to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which can be enforced through the city’s human relations commission, according to Ledewitz.

Despite the potential of Pennsylvania’s law to be used to defend religious freedom, Ledewitz said he only discovered four cases statewide in which a group used that law as a defense.

There was a case regarding religious freedom in prison, a noise complaint by a church and two cases involving church-run daycares, in which an individual or religious group attempted to use the religious freedom law as a defense. In every case, the defending group lost.

Ledewitz said that it is unlikely that Pennsylvania’s religious freedom law will come under scrutiny because of recent controversy in Indiana. He added that the lack of discrimination cases in the state might suggest that a statewide anti-discrimination law is unnecessary.

“In general, people are not discriminating based on sexual orientation and we’re not having people refusing to do gay weddings,” Ledewitz said. “Maybe this is a problem that we won’t need a law to protect people.

“When you put all this together, there’s no crisis in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Members of the LGBT community can face employment discrimination by religious liberty laws as well.

Only 18 of the 50 states have laws that fully prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity in both the public and private sector, according to statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Pennsylvania has laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity in the public employment sector, but not the private sector, according to the ACLU.

Gale Bonker, president of ALLIES, an LGBT advocacy group at Carnegie Mellon University, said she is “angered” that Pennsylvania does not have an all-inclusive anti-discrimination law regarding employment.

“In this day and age, there is no reason why sexual orientation and gender identity should not be added to workplace anti-discrimination laws, in Pennsylvania or any other state,” Bonker said.

Bonker said that religious freedom laws set a precedent that hurts the LGBT community, and that acceptance should instead be encouraged.

“The world is heavily influenced by itself, so we should use this to our advantage by promoting acceptance, not to our disadvantage by promoting separation,” Bonker said.