Pa. should open doors to equality in employment, housing and marriage for gays and lesbians

    A Harrisburg native who now lives in Baltimore, where gay marriage is legal and anti-discrimination laws exist to protect LGBT citizens in employment and housing, explains why he can’t live in Pennsylvania with his husband.

    Being a Harrisburg native, I read with interest that 100 legislative co-sponsors have introduced bills to bar discrimination against gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians in employment and housing. These important measures would protect citizens who, because of anti-gay animus, feel the need to hide themselves and their lives.

    Imagine the photograph of a significant other on one’s desk ending a career simply because the person in the photo is of the same sex. How would it feel to be denied a home simply because one’s roommate is of the same sex and under suspicion of being romantically linked, whether or not they are a couple? Thirty U.S. states still lack protections for gays and lesbians who can be legally denied jobs and a place to live, simply for being who they are or perceived to be.

    My husband and I have been together 20 years. About a year after we met, I moved to Baltimore to be with him, and we’ve lived in our old brick rowhouse ever since. That I moved from the one town and one state where I lived all my life was a big deal, as I have a special affinity for my hometown and for Pennsylvania. But love made me do it.

    We committed our lives together in our 1994 Holy Union, which we considered our marriage, though it carried no legal rights and responsibilities. We backed that up with a legal marriage in Canada in 2008 and proudly display our marriage certificate in our living room.

    I was deeply involved in the 2012 effort that preserved Maryland’s Civil Marriage Protection Act in referendum. When the majority voted to keep the law, I sobbed with joy in my husband’s arms, amazed at our stunning achievement of being one of the very first states where “gay” marriage was affirmed at the ballot box after losses in 30 others.

    My parents cheered for us all campaign season from their Harrisburg home, but sadly, my dad didn’t see the win. He died five days before Election Day. My mother, in her grief, was overjoyed at our victory that affirmed Maryland gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

    We visit Mom often, and we look forward to taking her to a nice Mother’s Day dinner. But every time we cross the border into my beautiful home state, my husband and I become legal strangers. Our marriage is not recognized in Pennsylvania. What would happen if my husband fell ill while visiting or if we had an auto accident? Would I be denied the right to be with him in the hospital? Would I be denied the right to make medical decisions because we’re not considered married in Pennsylvania? That’s a fear we face every time we visit.

    My husband and I have been discussing where to live upon retirement. Harrisburg was on our short list, as I love to walk along the Susquehanna River on a lush May evening to see the golden sunset reflecting on stately homes. We adore the view of Blue Mountain ablaze in color on a crisp fall morning. And nothing beats taking a friend on an inaugural tour of our glorious State Capitol and telling him to keep his head down until we get to that white spot in the center of the rotunda floor and then telling him to look up and wait for the gasp of surprise. We have friends in the area who we’d love to see regularly.

    But the lack of anti-discrimination protections and marriage equality in Pennsylvania outweighed these considerations. We have chosen to stay in Maryland, where not only are there anti-discrimination laws for employment, housing, and accommodation but also an affirmation of our marriage that recognizes our love.

    As a native Pennsylvanian, I ask you join your friends and neighbors in asking the legislature to adopt the anti-discrimination bills and then move to extend marriage access to their many thousands of gay and lesbian constituents, who contribute to their communities and celebrate the beauty of our Commonwealth. It’s time to ensure the well-being of every Pennsylvanian, no matter who they are and who they love.

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