It would stand to reason that the definition of the term “sex” has not changed legally since penal codes were written, but that would be a wrong assumption. Last week the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which is a state agency, announced that they had effectively redefined the word “sex” in the state’s discrimination laws to include the words “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and the combination of them both, labeled “SOGI.” They maintain that the word change in no way affects the law; it just gives better guidance for lawmakers and judges when dealing with sex in state statutes.
So why the word change?
It is a reaction of repeatedly not being able to change laws through the legitimate channels. As a way to circumvent the legislative process and those who govern it, the word change might seem to mean “nothing, ” but it might mean a great deal. In a move that echoes the Obama Administration’s bureaucratic reaches and executive order maneuvers, when Congress rejected the advocates who made LGBT demands to change laws set in place, the simple solution was to change the “words” to make it what they wanted.
For over ten years, LGBT community activists have been demanding that gender identity and sexual orientation be something that Pennsylvania lawmakers acknowledge with anti-discrimination laws. One of the hardest-fought definitions of current times, advocates were unable to make a dent. Pennsylvania, which is a right-leaning state, was adamantly against changing the discrimination laws already in place. The reason that such legislation isn’t passing is not due to lawmakers, but because of the citizens of Pennsylvania repeatedly voting against proposed changes.
There are multiple reasons that Pennsylvania law has been so resilient to change. Pennsylvania has a long history of people and Harrisburg law firms standing up for religious freedom, rights of conscience, and tolerance. Due to the state’s vast diversity, it is highly accepting of various thoughts and opinions.
Pennsylvania residents believe that putting specific words into laws does not open tolerance; it actually limits it. Seeing other states proposing changes to discrimination laws and the fallout, Pennsylvania has decided to hold fast to their original idea and create an atmosphere of regulations that don’t work against universal intolerance.
Opponents to the word change see it as an affront to a woman’s rights. Legislation that protects gender identity-specific anti-discrimination and sexual orientation-specific laws puts women at a disadvantage. If you allow someone to label themselves as either a male or female instead of gender being assigned at birth, it can create a very sticky situation and can put people at risk. Policy changes that allow someone to assign their own gender aren’t just about their rights; it affects society as a whole. By not defining gender legally, it creates less tolerance and acceptance.
That is why lawmakers have kept the language the way that it was worded and negated legislative changes, making the word “change” a slap in the face. In one fell swoop activists have gotten their way, going above what the people have voted to maintain, and created a way to overrule the popular consensus of those who live in Pennsylvania.
Governor Wolf, unable to create change through official channels, instigated the word change by demoting the existing Human Relations Commission chairman and putting in place someone who would further his cause — namely creating change through other means. Then with one simple word change, the face of Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination policies has been forever altered, right under the nose of those who voted against it and probably with very few understanding that the change has even taken place.
A quick change through bureaucratic red tape and an agency hell-bent on circumventing the wishes of the people has forever altered the way that the laws of Pennsylvania will be interpreted. The agency insists that they will take voters’ comments, but there is likely not going to be any change made, or change back to the way that the residents of Harrisburg and Pennsylvania have voted in the past. If there is a will there is a way, especially for special-interest groups.