Through an array of federal and state laws afford legal protections against discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, national origin and disability, a hypothetical Montgomery County ordinance would seek to afford similar protections to people who could suffer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I believe it is critically important for our county to be at the leading edge of ensuring the rights of everyone in Montgomery County, in particular those who do not have certain protected rights right now in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] community," Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said in announcing the creation of a working group led by county solicitor Ray McGarry.
Part of the working group's job will be to determine whether state law affords Montgomery County the standing to enact such an ordinance or whether the county could bring any authority to bear on parties found to be in violation of any such ordinance.
Shapiro said his personal involvement in the issue stemmed from his co-sponsorship of PA House Bill 300, which was introduced in 2009 and has languished in the House Committee on State Government for almost two years. The bill would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955 to include legal protection for "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression." The current law provides protection against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education, and the use of a guide dog.
"I think it's important that we explore what we can and can't do as a [Class] 2A county in order to protect those rights," Shapiro said, faulting current PA House leadership for its failure to pass House Bill 300.
"With the chairman of the relevant committee, Darryl Metcalfe, who I think is one of the most closed-minded, bigoted human beings in the world, let alone in the [state] Legislature, it won't be possible to get that passed at the state level, and Governor Corbett has vowed to veto it. I think he's wrong on that issue," Shapiro said.
In the absence of a state law, 22 Pennsylvania municipalities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances that specifically included protections for LGBT persons. Locally, Jenkintown, and Lower Merion enacted such ordinances in 2011. Montgomery County could be the first county to do so, according to a list published in January by the Human Rights Campaign.
Shapiro said he expects that McGarry's working group will complete its analysis of the county's options in "months, not years."