Pennsylvania Religious Groups Fight to Flush LGBT Bathroom and Hiring Legislation

Diane Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania doesn’t want to see men in the ladies’ restroom at church. But that is only one reason the AFA of PA is lobbying against Senate Bill 1306.

However, supporters of the bill sponsored by Sen. Pat Browne (R) argue they have waited for this legislation for more than a decade, and concerns about implementation shouldn’t trump the overarching need to protect civil rights.

SB 1306 would expand Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

“Large churches that maybe have a gym or something like that, and have shower facilities, they also would be forced to allow men in the women’s shower room or women in the men’s shower room if they think they’re the opposite sex,” Gramley said.

SB 1306 will face the Pennsylvania Legislature when the House returns to work Sept. 19 and the Senate on Sept. 16.

Legislators won’t have much time to work on it. The legislative session ends Nov. 30. And, Pennsylvania lawmakers usually don’t pass bills after Election Day.

The question of allowing transgendered people to choose which shower or restroom to use at church isn’t the only problem conservative groups have with the legislation.

Jonathan Alexandre, Liberty Counsel director of public policy, said SB 1306 would also stop religious schools, churches and other religious groups from only hiring people who agree with the organization’s teachings on sexuality, marriage and gender.

Supporters of the legislation argue protecting LGBT rights is no different than safeguarding the civil liberties of people of color.

But Alexandre described that as “an intellectually dishonest comparison.”

“They want you to believe that, if a religious organization didn’t hire such a person, it would be no different than refusal to hire a person because of skin color. This is a lie,” he said. “The color of my skin is not a feeling or desire. It is not something I can choose to act on or not act on. I simply am black.”

Aside from the expense religious organizations might incur to put in a new single-toilet restroom to avoid crossing gender lines, the state of Pennsylvania would also have to invest in the implementation of SB 1306.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission already handles 3,500 complaints a year about LGBT protection. HRC Executive Director JoAnn Edwards said SB 1306 could be expected to add about 100 complaints a year to the caseload.

So, she said, the HRC would have to invest at least $580,000 to hire new people and add technology to cope with the increased workload.

“This is a small cost and the need for fairness in the workplace for Pennsylvanians is large,” Edwards told the Citizens Voice.

However, the Pennsylvania Family Council and Pennsylvania Family Institute said the experience of the state of Washington, where similar legislation was approved a decade ago, shows there probably would not be even 100 additional cases.

Since 2006, there have been only 76 complaints alleging LGBT discrimination filed with Washington State’s Human Rights Commission.

And rather than saying that shows Pennsylvanians shouldn’t worry about breaking the state budget, the Family Council and Family Institute press release said Washington state’s experience shows there is no need for the legislation in Pennsylvania.

“There exists no widespread discrimination against the LGBT community in employment that SB 1306 needs to fix,” said the press release. “What does exist by passing these types of proposals is crippling fines on those trying to live out their religious beliefs as well as exposing women and young children to members of the opposite sex in vulnerable areas like locker rooms, showers and restrooms.”

Still, more than 30 municipalities in Pennsylvania have already implemented ordinances to protect LGBT rights.

Andy Hoover, the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the cities and towns had provided a “laboratory of sorts” that proved businesses and religious groups would not face insurmountable burdens if SB 1306 is approved.

“The experience of these localities has been that these local ordinances have leveled the playing field for LGBT people and have made those municipalities attractive places to live and work,” Hoover said in written testimony submitted for a Senate Labor and Industry Committee hearing on SB 1306 on Aug. 30. “Treating gay and transgender workers fairly has become a part of doing business in those communities.”

Hoover also disputed the argument that SB 1306 would violate the First Amendment rights of religious schools, churches and institutions.

“Nothing in any non-discrimination legislation alters those rights. By definition, it cannot. In fact, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that no government can compel a religious institution to hire or retain anyone who plays a ministerial role, and this legislation respects that understanding,” he said.

An editorial in the Pocono Record the day before the Senate Labor and Industry Committee hearing argued, “Pennsylvania long ago outlawed discrimination on the base of race, color, gender or religion. Including LGBT in the law would help protect vulnerable populations and improve our business climate by showing that Pennsylvania is a welcoming state that acknowledges all qualified employees and paying customers as equal.”

But Diane Gramley said the real problem with SB 1306, beyond the costs of implementation and legal quarrels, was what it would do to the culture of Pennsylvania.

“It solely turns the whole idea of sexuality on its head,” Gramley said. “And it’s just tragic that we as a country have come to this, but I just can’t help think of how William Penn – the founder of Pennsylvania – would think about what’s going on in his dense woods.”