Pennsylvania's socially conservative Republican governor has endorsed legislation that would outlaw LGBT discrimination in the state, drawing praise from advocates and signaling the GOP's continued grappling with LGBT issues.
Gov. Tom Corbett announced Tuesday he would support a bill that would amend the state's Human Relations Act by prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Speaking to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Corbett said he was "coming out in support" of the bill after learning that federal law does not already prohibit LGBT discrimination.
"I've had people come and talk to me about how they were discriminated against," Corbett told the newspaper. "The federal government has antidiscrimination laws. I believed they covered it."
Corbett's endorsement was praised by LGBT-rights groups, who said the GOP governor's support would be significant for the bill's prospects in the state's Republican-controlled state Legislature.
"His support for this bill underscores that people of Pennsylvania understand that while we may not all have the same views and beliefs, we all deserve to be able to earn a living to support ourselves, to support our families, and to contribute to society," said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, in a statement. "Discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is real in 2013 and it must be stopped. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it's that everyone should have equal opportunity and a level playing field."
According to out state Rep. Brian Sims (D), Corbett's endorsement should be a "green light" for conservative leaders in the state to support nondiscrimination legislation.
"We continue to see our elected officials in Pennsylvania coming out on the right side of history, and Governor Corbett is no exception to this trend," Sims said in a statement. "Last month, Senator Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican, just like Governor Corbett voted to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the U.S. Senate, demonstrating to Americans across the country that support for LGBT civil rights and a conservative ideology are not mutually exclusive."
Corbett's endorsement was particularly significant due to the governor’s opposition to issues such as marriage equality in the only Northeastern state that does not permit same-sex marriage nor civil unions for same-sex couples.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, has said she will not defend the state's law prohibiting same-sex marriage and Corbett's administration has been fighting a federal lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging the Pennsylvania same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. In October, Corbett went so far as to compare marriage equality to incest on local television — comments for which he later apologized.
Corbett's announcement comes as the first-term governor faces an uphill battle for re-election. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Democratic voter registration in the state outnumbers Republican registration by more than a million. And an October poll found only 20 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters believe Corbett deserves reelection.
[Photo: Tom Corbett. Credit: Pennsylvania Governor's Office.]