An Anti-Discrimination Law Passes in My County
On Wednesday, July 1, the Council of Allegheny County of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania became the third county in Pennsylvania to pass into law an anti-discrimination ordinance that will establish a Human Relations Commission to protect the housing, employment and due process rights of vulnerable groups in our community. The County Executive has said he will sign this action into law. May it be so!
For most of us, I think, experience has taught us the value of these kinds of protections. We agree as a society that prejudice is wrong. Prejudice hurts not just the person directly involved, but all of us. Nevertheless, as the proposed ordinance moved through our county council, two of the categories included in it threatened to scuttle it altogether. They are “sexual identification and gender expression.” God be praised that the wording ready for signing includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people!
My heart swells at this success because many Presbyterians in Allegheny County worked hard for this outcome. In 1978 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) passed the Definitive Guidance, which outlined the church’s position on gays and lesbians (the sexual minorities the church was aware of at the time). In a section on civil rights, the PCUSA committed itself to supporting exactly this kind of anti-discrimination legislation. Based upon that longstanding policy, a lot of Presbyterians attended hearings, mailed postcards, joined in rallies and made phone calls to our councilwomen and men. We shared our Christian conviction that this ordinance was a great thing to do. Indeed, it is an embodiment of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors as ourselves.
At the same time, in order to get all the votes needed to pass this county law, an amendment was added that exempts “religious, fraternal, charitable and sectarian” organizations from compliance. Churches were the loudest voices calling for this exemption. I tell you, it was really sad that the primary voice against this good law came from other Christians insisting that they be allowed to judge GLBT people and withhold rights from them that most of us take for granted.
So more with relief than rejoicing, I am glad for this step toward justice in my county. Next up come protections at the state and national level. Do you know whether you have such a law where you live?