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Life In The Only State Where Gay Couples Can Get Married One Day, Fired The Next

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that has marriage equality for same-sex couples, but lacks basic LGBT nondiscrimination protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations. And advocates say that likely won't change any time soon.

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A plaintiff same-sex couple in a lawsuit that challenged the state's marriage ban, stands on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building May 20, after a judge found the ban unconstitutional.

Paul Richards, 26, of Philadelphia, told BuzzFeed News he's constantly aware of gaps in Pennsylvania's law that leave him and husband vulnerable to anti-LGBT discrimination.

Despite what he described as the privilege of living in a big city where LGBT nondiscrimination protections exist at the municipal level, there's always worry in the back of his mind when he travels throughout the rest of the state.

"There's going to be that sense of anxiety and that sense of distrust," he said, seeing as the state has yet to pass legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination statewide, even though he and his husband were able to legally marry this June. "This is especially the case when it comes to housing and looking for apartments — that is where I've actually felt the most concern, personally."

Richards said there are undoubtedly thousands of other LGBT people in the state who face discrimination, which in some cases is perfectly legal under the state's law. And advocates pushing to change that say that is unlikely to change anytime soon, thanks to the state's legislature.

Despite unprecedented support among lawmakers in Pennsylvania's Republican-dominated General Assembly for proposed LGBT nondiscrimination legislation, some proponents of the bill say there's little chance it will move forward in the final days of this year's session.

With that, LGBT Pennsylvanians will be left to continue grappling the void in the state's law — which as of this summer, allows same-sex couples to legally marry, but lacks basic nondiscrimination protections in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations — until at least next year.

"There's a strong likelihood [the bill] will not see daylight," Rep. Brian Sims, an out gay lawmaker from Philadelphia and co-sponsor of the bill, told BuzzFeed News. "We're really only in session 12 more days this year. I know this isn't a priority for the Republican leadership, but because of this bill has so much support, I'm not going to entirely write it off."

Sims and other state lawmakers return to the capitol Sept. 15, but according to Ted Martin, executive director at statewide LGBT rights group, Equality Pennsylvania, lawmakers will likely focus on finally passing a state budget.

"Lawmakers haven't been able to pass a budget, and it's unlikely that any legislation besides the budget will make it through," Martin said. "If the bill doesn't move forward, we will come back with it next year with even higher support."

The legislation — House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 — has already seen an increase in bipartisan support among state legislators this year and just picked up a 97th co-sponsor in the House, which has 203 members. Half of the 50-member Senate has signed on to co-sponsor the bill. The legislation would amend the state's Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Pennsylvania became the only state in the nation lacking such protections to offer marriage equality to same-sex couples after Republican Gov. Tom Corbett said May 21 that he would not appeal a federal court ruling striking down the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Late last year, Corbett said he supports the nondiscrimination legislation.

Even though over 30 municipalities have passed their own local-level nondiscrimination ordinances to establish such protections, discrimination against LGBT people is still legal in over 70% of the state, according to Sims. While marriage equality rights affect some in the LGBT community, statewide nondiscrimination protections will impact everyone in the community and the state's over 12 million residents, he said.

"I'm a sitting state legislator, and could be kicked out of a hotel or a restaurant in some parts of the state just for having this conversation right now," Sims said. "The hoops we make LGBT people jump through legally are the hoops we make nobody else jump through. Everyone else isn't subject to their civil rights changing on where they are physically standing. It's a certain level of ridiculous, but it's still too dangerous to be ridiculous."

Sims — despite the likelihood that there won't be a vote in the remaining days of the session — again emphasized that he hasn't completely written off the bill moving forward, saying, "There is virtually nothing our Republican governor and legislature seem to be agreeing on right now, but this is seemingly something that they could agree on."

If not this session, though, proponents will have to reintroduce the bills next January. Sims said that not matter what, Pennsylvania must find a bipartisan way to achieve a nondiscrimination law and that he hopes more and more Republicans will see it as an issue not no longer worth opposing. "We are going to have to find a way to nondiscrimination that Republicans approve of," he said.

Martin said he and other LGBT advocates will continue pushing to build support for the legislation in the coming weeks and months as well as for more local nondiscrimination ordinances. Until then, the threat of discrimination is part of the "situation we are facing in Pennsylvania."

"People are going to continue to face anxiety until the law is passed," Martin said. "There's an lot of anxiety people feel now that people are getting married, but in some instances they can't even talk bout this great joyful event in their lives out of fear of discrimination in certain circumstances."

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