Philadelphia: A haven within a hell?

EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 3, 2008

Those of us who are lucky enough to live in the city of Philadelphia are shielded (practically speaking) from the harsh realities of the discrimination that runs rampant in the rest of Pennsylvania-both socially and legally.

Lawmakers recently introduced legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. It would cover the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations. Current Pennsylvania law provides only basic legal protection against discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education and the use of a guide dog.

While previous attempts to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity have failed, 14 municipalities across the Commonwealth have already enacted laws that include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. But approximately, 75 percent of the state's 12 million residents live or work in communities that do not provide these protections.

The 2000 U.S. Census indicates same-sex parents are raising more than one million children.
While the ordinance for adoption in Philadelphia looks similar to every other county in Pennsylvania, in practice, adoption for lesbians in Philadelphia is very easy. Philadelphia treats it as a second-parent adoption as opposed to a step-parent adoption even though the adopting mother still fills out step-parent adoption. As opposed to the multiple interviews that the adopting mother must go through in surrounding counties, in Philadelphia there is a very brief interview process and rarely any court appearances. Moreover, there is rarely a "home study," where the second parent proves that they would be a good parent. As such, the average length of an adoption in surrounding counties is six to nine months instead of three months in Philadelphia and the process is a lot less expensive in attorneys' fees and home study fees. But unfortunately, the scenario is different for men because with two men, typically parental rights are being terminated. And as a result, gay men fall into the traditional step-parent situation. That being said, the smoothest route for gay men to take is for one man to adopt overseas, come home and re-affirm the adoption in the city of Philadelphia. Local officials accelerate the process after the second male parent files for adoption.

As I'm sure we are all vaguely aware, the state Senate voted on May 6 to table a bill that would have amended the Constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples. Senate Bill 1250 read: "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this Commonwealth, and neither the Commonwealth nor any of its political subdivisions shall create or recognize a legal status identical or substantially equivalent to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."

Fourteen amendments were planned on the bill, which would have meant a long night for everyone. My hat goes off to state Sen. Vincent Fumo [D-Philadelphia], who proposed that Pennsylvania outlaw most divorces! Fumo's point was if the proponents of the bill truly wanted to protect marriage then they should ban divorce; not disallow marginalized minorities from marrying. His proposed amendment highlighted the true essence of bill-a purely discriminatory and politically divisive move.

Besides enshrining discrimination against a specific minority group in the state Constitution, this amendment would also have additional far reaching effects. These included the elimination of the domestic partnership benefits offered by state and local government that would influence adoption and make domestic abuse laws applicable to those who are legally married. Had lawmakers enacted SB 1250, the bubble we call Philadelphia would have surely burst.

Legislation and practices like that in existence in Philadelphia are critical to thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians who are trying to keep a roof over their heads and create families. Moreover, without a civil rights law, Pennsylvania is at a competitive disadvantage with Maryland, New Jersey and New York that already have legislation. State-wide civil rights that includes sexual orientation and gender identity is essential and it is fair. And the time is now.


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