SINCE ITS birth more than two centuries ago, this nation has extended a guarantee of freedom and equal opportunity.

Yet, at various periods and in various places during this country's history, we have faced hard struggles to extend that guarantee to all Americans. Through poor excuses - including race, gender, religion, wealth or other factors - some of our fellow Americans were denied the right to vote, work, to live where they wished, and some were literally enslaved.

Always, however, there have been those among us who fought for the cause of equal rights. Many of those battles were difficult; some were bloody. Some took place in quiet courtrooms and some in raucous public debates. And, often, defeats preceded progress along the way. Progress frequently comes just a step at a time.

It's important that we seize every opportunity possible to advance the cause of equal rights. We have a valuable opportunity now in Pennsylvania.

Lately across this nation efforts to assure fair treatment for people of any sexual orientation have made significant headway. In our state, we saw a very encouraging development May 7 with the introduction of matching bills in the Pennsylvania House and Senate to outlaw discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

The Legislature should pass those bills, and the governor should sign them into law.

I was glad to see House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 receive bipartisan support, with a total of 102 co-sponsors - 77 in the House and 25 in the Senate. Rep. Dan Frankel, of Pittsburgh, and Sen. Larry Farnese, of Philadelphia, the prime sponsors of the bills in their respective chambers, deserve commendation for taking the initiative to draft legislation and then recruiting the backing of so many colleagues.

There was a time not so long ago when almost all elected officials in this state would have failed to publicly protect gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. It speaks well of the lawmakers' own commitment to justice - and of the progress that Pennsylvania has made toward tolerance and acceptance - that members of both political parties step forth now to affirm that discrimination is wrong no matter who suffers it.

A recent survey done for Equality Pennsylvania showed about 70 percent of Pennsylvanians agree with gay anti-discrimination measures pertaining to job security and access to business services, and more than 60 percent agree on including sexual orientation under general equal-rights protection afforded to other minorities.

As state treasurer - and as someone who was successful in the business world before running for public office - I know fair and equal treatment is not just good for Pennsylvania's LGBT community; it is good for our state as a whole.

It hurts our economy when we exclude some people from full participation. It is detrimental to an economy to deny some people the opportunity to make full use of their talents. Pennsylvania should not hang out a sign telling smart, hard-working people that we don't welcome or value their contributions because of their sexual orientation.

Policies of inclusion, not exclusion, help to make a state attractive to business, to corporate recruiters, to convention planners and to others who do not want to be associated with intolerance for practical reasons as well as moral ones. Banning discrimination, as the recent House and Senate proposals would do, will pay dividends for the entire state in the form of increased competitiveness and economic growth. Even more important: It is simply the right thing to do.

Still, while a significant portion of the Pennsylvania Legislature has indicated support for these bills through co-sponsorship, supporters currently lack a majority. The bills will face a difficult path to passage. The chairman of the relevant committee in the House has voiced opposition - and even introduced a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, apparently not understanding that constitutions exist to ensure rights, not remove them.

So, some in the Pennsylvania Legislature are dangerously out of step with an enlightened public. Yet, this is one of our best chances in many years to strike a blow against anti-LGBT discrimination. With a majority of the public behind them, supporters of the bills should press ahead energetically to make them law. Especially in our beloved and historic Pennsylvania, everyone should be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rob McCord, of Montgomery County, is serving his second term as Pennsylvania treasurer.