HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that he would be willing to sign legislation to outlaw discrimination based on someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, but he was unprepared to say what he will do, if anything, to try to dislodge such bills that have thus far languished in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Corbett's statement won applause from the bill's sponsors and a leading gay rights group.
Corbett said he became aware in the last few months that federal law did not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I had a presumption that it did. I believe it should, I don't think there should be discrimination," Corbett told reporters after a news conference at which he signed bills to overhaul the state's laws on child abuse.
Corbett, a Republican who is seeking a second term in next year's election, made clear that he is not changing his support for a Pennsylvania law that bans recognition of same-sex marriage, the only northeastern state to do so.
The gay rights group, Harrisburg-based Equality PA, lauded Corbett for "calling out discrimination in all its forms."
Pennsylvania law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, education status or disability.
Bills in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state House and Senate would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list. The legislation has gotten a higher profile recently, particularly with two openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature for the first time this year and a wave of other northeastern states recognizing same-sex marriage. However, the attention has not translated into action in Harrisburg, since neither of the House or Senate bills have been scheduled for a hearing or a committee vote.
Asked about moves he would make to pressure lawmakers to pass them, Corbett said he wasn't aware of a plan, although he said his staff has contacted legislative leaders to apprise them of his position.
In the more conservative House, a spokesman for Republican leaders could not say whether Corbett's position would prompt them to advance the bill.
"We don't believe there should be any kind of discrimination against any particular group or association," said the GOP spokesman, Steve Miskin.
In November, U.S. senators including Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and Bob Casey approved federal legislation on the topic, but it is expected to die in the more conservative U.S. House.
As of June, 17 states and the District of Columbia have anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation and gender identity, the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign says. State lawmakers say about 30 municipal and county governments have similar policies.