Bethlehem City Council Unanimously Passes Civil Rights Ordinance

Following a three hour public meeting last night (June 21, 2011) Bethlehem City Council unanimously passed a non-discrimination ordinance. The next step is for Mayor John Callahan, who introduced the measure, to sign the ordinance.

Adrian Shanker, who led a coalition effort to pass the ordinance, is vice president of Pennsylvania Diversity Network. The coalition represented more than 100 business, faith, labor, arts, education, and civil rights organizations in support of the ordinance.

“We won tonight, but there were no real losers,” stated Shanker. “The Bethlehem community was loud and clear that they want civil rights protections, and city council tonight listened and voted accordingly.” Shanker said, “This law helps working people, it helps small business, it protects religious freedom, and most importantly, it makes discrimination illegal in the City of Bethlehem.”

“I would be hard-pressed to find a vote that I support more than the one I’m voting on tonight” said councilman J. William Reynolds as he cast his vote in favor of the bill. Reynolds is not alone in his sentiments. Mike Fegley of the popular Bethlehem Restaurant, the Bethlehem Brew Works stated, “this is the ethical thing to do in Bethlehem.” Before passing the ordinance, council voted to clarify the religious exemption and retain expanded powers, such as subpoena power, for the Human Relations Commission, following requests from many supporters of the ordinance.

Testimony was provided by the AARP of Pennsylvania, Equality Pennsylvania, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, Communities in Schools, and the Indian American Association of the Lehigh Valley, among others.

Ted Martin, executive director, Equality Pennsylvania attended three of the four public meetings on the issue. Following tonight’s vote, Martin said, “I can only hope that the Pennsylvania legislature will follow Bethlehem’s lead and pass a fully inclusive statewide non discrimination law.” Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) has introduced this legislation in the Senate, and Representative Frankel introduced companion legislation in the House. The lack of a fully inclusive state law has caused 21 municipalities, including Bethlehem, to pass their own versions on the local level.

Bethlehem follows neighboring Allentown, Easton, and Reading in passing this law. Liz Bradbury led a similar effort in Allentown more than ten years ago and attended tonight’s meeting. “I am so pleased that I can now recommend Bethlehem as a safe place to live or work for members of the lgbt community” said Bradbury.

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