Homosexuality finally removed from Pa. Crimes Code after being first discovered in Upper Darby

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Homosexuality has officially been removed from the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed House Bill 2125 last week and Governor Tom Wolf signed the amending act into law on Monday.

The decades-old anti-LGBTQ law was first discovered in Upper Darby’s municipal code back in March 2021 by a member of a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Ordinance 2693 regulated the “sale, rental, distribution, exhibition, publication, lending, giving away or showing of obscene and other sexual material,” depictions of homosexuality were deemed as “patently offensive” — and came with a $300 fine and or 90 days in prison.

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The ordinance had been in existence at the township level since 1987 and was unearthed as Upper Darby was codifying its laws and making them publicly available online.

Community members immediately brought it to the attention of township leaders and it was unanimously repealed. This caught the attention of Democratic State Rep. Mike Zabel, who represents the area.

“I had a feeling it was an ordinance that came — like a lot of ordinances to do — from the state, modeling it on the state statute. So we looked it up in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and sure enough, they had the same definition of obscenity — the same problematic definition,” Zabel said.

After calls from the community to jump into action, local Democratic lawmakers went to work in Harrisburg to remove it from Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code.

“I drafted a proposed piece of legislation that would repeal that language in our Crimes Code. And then Senator [Tim] Kearney, my colleague also representing Delaware County and Upper Darby, joined me and introduced a bill on the Senate floor. That’s where it started,” Zabel said.

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About a year ago, there was another bill being proposed on the floor of the house that was being considered for a final vote. Because the bill also addressed the Crimes Code, Zabel thought that his piece of legislation could fit into it as an amendment.

However, Republicans in the state General Assembly voted to table the amendment, which meant that the amendment was not going to be considered.

“I was pretty mad. I was pretty frustrated and I believed that they were just going to bury my bill,” Zabel said.

But, Republican State Rep. Todd Stephens, of Montgomery County, later introduced a piece of legislation that did functionally the same thing as Zabel’s and it made it through both the House and the Senate before it was finally signed by Wolf.

“I’m grateful for Rep. Stephens offering the bill, because it helped get it across the finish line,” Zabel said. “There’s still a long way to go for full equality for LGBTQIA+ individuals. It’s still legal to discriminate against them in certain contexts. And the legislature is still offering some bills that cruelly target them. So by no means is the fight for fairness and equality done. This is a small victory — but it’s important to celebrate those when we can have them.”

In a statement after the bill made it through the General Assembly, Democratic State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta was also in strong support of this “step towards destigmatizing LGBTQ+ individuals and protecting the community from possible future court decisions.”

He was one of the cosponsors of the bill.

“Removing homosexuality from the Crimes Code was about a couple centuries overdue, but a big deal nevertheless. As one of three openly LGBTQ members of the General Assembly, I am happy that this is finally happening in Pennsylvania after a years-long fight,” Kenyatta said.

Kenyatta also said that recent decisions made by the United States’ highest court also added a sense of urgency to get this done.

“When Justice Thomas concurred in the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade he mentioned Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that sodomy laws are unconstitutional, as a decision the court should overturn. Should the court do that and had this language remained in the Crimes Code it would have presented a grave threat to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians,” Kenyatta said.

Texas officials have already expressed interest in potentially bringing forth another sodomy case to SCOTUS.

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