HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A state panel on Thursday narrowly approved new definitions of sex, religious creed and race in Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination regulations, with three members appointed by Democrats in favor and two Republican appointees voting no.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission signed off on the set of definitions that concern the types of employment, housing, education and public accommodations discrimination complaints that can be brought before the state Human Relations Commission.
Supporters said the definitions will provide greater clarity to people who bring such complaints as well as the employers, organizations and others who must defend against them, while opponents said the Legislature was better positioned to make those changes.
“It just seems to me that the Legislature has not adopted definitions over the course of numerous, numerous years,” said the regulatory panel’s chairman, George Bedwick, a Democratic appointee. He called it “strong evidence that the intent” when the Human Relations Act was first adopted in the 1950s and continues to be “to allow the commission to define those terms.”
Republican appointee John Soroko said his “no” vote was based “solely and strictly” on his belief that the change in regulations was outside the Human Relations Commission’s authority.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he supported the change, which is expected to take effect early next year.
“I have been clear — hate has no place in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a statement issued after the vote. “This includes protecting the rights of individuals facing discrimination by a school, landlord, or employer based on who they love or their gender identity.”
The move to clarify the terms “sex,” “religious creed” and “race” builds on a 2018 decision by the Human Relations Commission to start accepting complaints about LGBTQ discrimination.
The regulation defines “sex” as including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, sex assigned at birth, gender identity or expression, affectional or sexual orientation, and differences in sex development.
“Race” discrimination includes ancestry, national origin, ethnic characteristics, interracial marriages and association, traits such as hairstyles that are historically associated with race, and national origin or ancestry.
And “religious creed” covers all aspects of religious observance, practice and belief.
In a May letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, argued the new definitions were in effect an end-run around the Legislature.