PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Michael Nutter signed legislation Thursday to afford equal rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, saying he hoped Philadelphia would become "the most LGBT-friendly" city in the world.
Nutter, city and state lawmakers and gay rights advocates said the legislation makes Philadelphia the first city in the U.S. to offer tax credits to companies that extend the same health care coverage to LGBT employees' domestic partners and their children as they provide to heterosexual spouses and their children.
They said the legislation also makes Philadelphia the first city to offer businesses tax credits as a way to encourage providing transgender-specific health benefits.
"My goal is for Philadelphia to be one of, if not the most, LGBT-friendly cities in the world and a leader on equality issues," said Nutter, adding that the signing struck a personal note because his friend, the late City Councilman John Anderson, was a gay man and a mentor who inspired him 30 years ago to pursue a life of public service.
In addition to the business tax incentives, which were backed by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce as well as LGBT advocacy groups, the legislation requires gender-neutral bathrooms in newly constructed city-owned buildings, revises Philadelphia's anti-discrimination law to include transgender people, extends decision-making rights to life partners on medical and other issues, and changes city forms and websites to offer options for same-sex couples and transgender people.
"Equal protection under the law means equal protection under the law," said Councilman James Kenney, sponsor of the legislation. "It doesn't mean sanctioned by religion or custom or anything else."
Kenney called the bill, which the City Council passed easily last month, "the next iteration of civil rights and freedom in the United States."
"This is a city that is truly respecting all its citizens," said state Rep. Brian Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat and the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the Legislature. "It is because of that respect that we are indeed a first-class city and we will continue to shine."
Neither gay marriage nor civil unions are legal in Pennsylvania, and the state has a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.