LGBT rights in Pennsylvania

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Map of USA PA.svg
StatusLegal since 1980
(Legislative repeal in 1995)
Gender identityTransgender individuals allowed to change legal gender on birth certificate and driver's license
Discrimination protectionsSexual orientation and gender identity protections
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage since 2014

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania face some legal challenges and discrimination not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Pennsylvania. Same-sex couples and families headed by same-sex couples are eligible for all of the protections available to opposite-sex married couples. Pennsylvania was the final Mid-Atlantic state without same-sex marriage, indeed lacking any form of same-sex recognition law until its statutory ban was overturned on May 20, 2014.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is not explicitly banned in the state, though some cities and counties ban such discrimination, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie and Reading (the five most populous cities in the state). Four of these cities also ban conversion therapy on minors. In August 2018, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission interpreted existing state law covering sex discrimination as including the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity, effectively banning discrimination against LGBT people.[1]

Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have vibrant LGBT communities, with pride parades having been held since the 1970s and attracting more than 100,000 attendees as of 2017.[2][3]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Pennsylvania has repealed its sodomy statutes incrementally. In 1972, legislation legalized consensual sodomy for heterosexual married couples. In 1980, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruling in Commonwealth v. Bonadio found Pennsylvania's sodomy law unconstitutional as violating the equal protection guarantees of both the state and federal constitutions.[4] Pennsylvania repealed its remaining sodomy laws in 1995.

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Map of Pennsylvania counties, cities, and boroughs that offer domestic partner benefits either county-wide or in particular cities.
  City offers domestic partner benefits
  County-wide partner benefits through domestic partnership
  County or city does not offer domestic partner benefits

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania on May 20, 2014, when U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that the state's statutory ban on such marriages was unconstitutional.[5] After the ACLU filed the lawsuit in federal court on July 9, 2013, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she would refuse to defend the statute.[6]

Previously, Pennsylvania did not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. Attempts had been made in recent years to allow for such unions. There had also been attempts to amend the State Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.

Local domestic partnerships[edit]

While domestic partnerships were never offered statewide, the city of Philadelphia offers 'life partnerships' in the case of a "long-term committed relationship between two unmarried individuals of the same gender who are residents of the city; or one of whom is employed in the city, owns real property in the city, owns and operates a business in the city, or is a recipient of or has a vested interest in employee benefits from the City of Philadelphia."[7][8] The city of Pittsburgh also provides domestic partnerships.[9] County employees in Luzerne County are required to identify if they are in a domestic partnership, which is explicitly defined as being between people of the same gender.[10]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Pennsylvania allows a single person to adopt without respect to sexual orientation.[11]

Until 2002, Pennsylvania did not permit stepchild adoption by a person of the same sex as the first parent. A 6-0 ruling by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania established the right of same-sex couples to stepchild adoptions.[12] No statute prohibits a same-sex couple from adopting a child jointly.[11]

Hate crime law[edit]

Pennsylvania passed a hate crime law in 2002 that covered LGBT people,[13] but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck it down in 2008 on a technicality: legislators inserted the language into an unrelated bill on agricultural terrorism, changing that bill's purpose during the legislative process, which violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.[14] Legislation was introduced in several sessions to reinstate the law, but it never made it out of committee.[15][16][17]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Map of Pennsylvania counties, cities, townships, boroughs, and unincorporated communities that have sexual orientation and/or gender identity anti–employment discrimination ordinances
  Sexual orientation and gender identity with anti–employment discrimination ordinance
  Sexual orientation with anti–employment discrimination ordinance and gender identity solely in public employment
  Sexual orientation and gender identity solely in state employment

There are statewide executive orders protecting LGBT individuals from workplace discrimination. In 1975, Pennsylvania became the first U.S. state in which an executive order was issued providing for discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation in state employment.[18] In 2003, gender identity was added to this executive order and the order has been reissued by every governor since then. On April 7, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed two executive orders, the first order prohibiting discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status and other factors and the second mandate banning state contractors from discriminating against their LGBT employees.[19]

For more than ten years, legislation that would protect LGBT people statewide from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has awaited action in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.[20] On December 17, 2013, Governor Tom Corbett announced his support for such legislation with respect to sexual orientation after learning that federal law did not already provide such protection as he had previously thought. He said he anticipated bipartisan support for the legislation.[21]

Many Pennsylvania municipalities and counties, including the five most populous cities, have enacted ordinances implementing such discrimination protections.[22]

Since August 2018, discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity has been interpreted by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission as being banned under the category of sex of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.[23] LGBT people who have been discriminated against in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations can now file complaints with the Commission, which will investigate each complaint and can advise those responsible to stop a discriminatory practice, implement training, or award economic damages.[1] Pennsylvania was the second state to achieve statewide LGBT protections this way, following Michigan in May 2018.

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Sex reassignment surgery is legal in the state.

In August 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Health changed requirements for transgender people to change their gender on their birth certificates. Sex reassignment surgery is no longer a requirement. Instead, transgender persons will just have to present a note from a physician stating that they have had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. Additionally, children under 18 who wish to change their gender on their birth certificate will need their parents to make the request.[24]

Beginning on July 1, 2020, Pennsylvania will allow a third gender option (known as "X") on driver's licenses and state IDs.[25][26]

Conversion therapy[edit]

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch at the 2016 Pittsburgh Pride parade

A bill to ban the use of conversion therapy on LGBT minors in Pennsylvania was introduced in the General Assembly in April 2015. The bill had 20 sponsors, all of whom were Democrats. The bill, however, died without any legislative action.[27]

On December 14, 2016, Pittsburgh became the first city in Pennsylvania to pass an ordinance that bans conversion therapy on minors. The ban was passed 9-0 and took effect on January 1, 2017.[28] Philadelphia and Allentown followed suit in July 2017.[29][30] Reading and Doylestown both enacted conversion therapy bans in December 2017.[31][32]

State College passed a ban in February 2018,[33] and Yardley did so the following month.[34] Both Bellefonte and Bethlehem followed suit in July 2018.[35][36]

Newtown Township, in Bucks County, unanimously voted to ban conversion therapy in November 2018.

Public opinion[edit]

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll found that 64% of Pennsylvania residents supported same-sex marriage, while 27% were opposed. 9% were undecided. Additionally, 69% supported an anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. 23% were against. The PRRI also found that 62% were against allowing public businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people due to religious beliefs, while 30% supported such religiously-based refusals.[37]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1980)
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation Yes (Since 2018)
Anti-discrimination laws for gender identity or expression Yes (Since 2018)
Same-sex marriages Yes (Since 2014)
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2014)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2002)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals allowed to serve in the military Yes (Since 2011)
Transgender people allowed to serve in the military No
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Homosexuality declassified as an illness Yes (Since 1973)
Conversion therapy on minors outlawed No/Yes (Varies by county and city)
MSMs allowed to donate blood No/Yes (Since 2015, one year deferral period)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pa. expands protections for LGBT people, but hate-crime law still doesn’t include them, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 August 2018
  2. ^ "Pittsburgh pride parade celebrates community's diversity". June 11, 2017.
  3. ^ "Philly shows its colors in 2017 LGBT Pride Parade". June 19, 2017.
  4. ^ Shaman, Jeffrey M. (2008). Equality and Liberty in the Golden Age of State Constitutional Law. NY: Oxford University Press. p. 213.
  5. ^ "Judge Rules for Marriage Equality in Pennsylvania". May 20, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  6. ^ "Pennsylvania's A.G. Won't Even Defend Their Gay Marriage Ban in Court". The Atlantic Wire. July 11, 2013. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  7. ^ Philadelphia City Code § 9-1102.
  8. ^ "Domestic Partnerships". June 7, 1996. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  9. ^ "Employee Mutual Commitment Benefits Policy (Domestic Partnership Registry)" (PDF). July 7, 2014. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  10. ^ Michael P. Buffer (Staff Writer). "County code compels same-sex couples to identify relationship - News". Citizens Voice. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Pennsylvania Adoption Law". State Laws & Legislation. Archived from the original on April 9, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  12. ^ "Pennsylvania: Gay Adoption Victory". New York Times. August 24, 2002. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  13. ^ "National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Applauds Governor Schweiker for Signing Bill Adding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity To Existing Classes, December 3, 2002". Pennsylvania Expands Hate Crimes Law. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Archived from the original on March 23, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  14. ^ Jalsevac, John (July 25, 2008). "Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules that Homosexual 'Hate Crimes' Law Violates Pennsylvania Constitution". LifeSiteNews. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  15. ^ "House Bill 745". Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  16. ^ "House Bill 177". Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  17. ^ "Senate Bill 42". Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  18. ^ Rimmerman, Craig A., Kenneth D. Wald, Clyde Wilcox. (2000). In The Politics of Gay Rights. University of Chicago Press. p. 272. ISBN 0-226-71999-5. Retrieved on January 23, 2011.
  19. ^ Michael Lavers (April 7, 2016). "Pennsylvania governor signs nondiscrimination executive orders". Washington Blade.
  20. ^ "Record Number of Legislators Sign On as Co-sponsors of Bill to End Discrimination". Equality Pennsylvania. July 1, 2013. Archived from the original on November 23, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  21. ^ Worden, Amy (December 18, 2013). "Corbett backs ban on sexual orientation discrimination". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  22. ^ Tags: Ending Discrimination (June 6, 2013). "Pittston Passes Policy to Protect LGBT People from Discrimination". Archived from the original on November 23, 2016. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  23. ^ "Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Releases Guidance on Sex-Based Discrimination under the Pennsylvania Fair Education Opportunities Act". Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
  24. ^ Pennsylvania makes it easier for transgender people to correct birth certificates Archived November 16, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Equality Pennsylvania
  25. ^ Goodin-Smith, Oona (July 31, 2019). "Pennsylvania to offer gender-neutral option on state IDs". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  26. ^ Villarreal, Daniel (August 2, 2019). "Washington & Pennsylvania now offer non-binary options on state ID cards". LGBTQ Nation.
  27. ^ PA HB935 | 2015-2016 | Regular Session
  28. ^ Pittsburgh becomes the latest city to approve a ban on conversion therapy
  29. ^ Philadelphia just passed a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors
  30. ^ Conversion therapy banned in Allentown
  31. ^ Reading bans conversion therapy
  32. ^ Doylestown council passes conversion therapy ban
  33. ^ "State College Bans LGBTQ Conversion Therapy for Minors". Centre Daily Times. February 5, 2018.
  34. ^ Yardley Borough Council unanimously adopts anti-discrimination ordinance; law extends protections to LGBT community
  35. ^ Bellefonte bans 'conversion therapy' practice in Borough
  36. ^ Bethlehem City Council approves ban on conversion therapy
  37. ^ PRRI: American Values Atlas 2017