At their meeting Wednesday night, the Allentown City Council voted unanimously (7-0) to extend the offer of health care benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees.
Ted Martin, the executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, also remarked on the complete absence of negative public comment during the measure's discussion.
“I work in Harrisburg where I spend much of my time saying 'No'…'No, please don’t enact that'…'No, please don’t take away those rights,'" Martin told reporters after the meeting. "I’m happy to be in Allentown tonight where I can say 'Yes'...Yes to fairness, yes to equality and yes to the right thing to do."
"Why the heck should anyone decide who should and shouldn't get benefits," said councilman Michael Donovan. "We're all human, we're all the same."
A stride in the direction of full equality in the workplace, Allentown is now the fourth city in Pennsylvania to adopt such an inclusive policy. The cities of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg also offer health care benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees.
At the moment, Wednesday night's offer of health care benefits extends only to the same-sex partners of city employees who are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Municipal Employee Supervisory Association (MESA), as well as the same-sex partners of non-union employees.
Though the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the International Association of Fire Fighters have yet to return their signed memorandums of understanding (MOU), Allentown Managing Director Ken Bennington is optimistic about both the fire and police unions joining the legislation. If that is to be the case, City Council would then need to prepare a new ordinance that includes them in the bill that passed Wednesday night.
We noted on our blog in December that in the absence of a statewide law, to date 18 Pennsylvania local municipalities have passed ordinances that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.
GLAAD has been working closely with local and statewide leaders to bring media attention to the efforts underway to make Pennsylvania a state where all residents are treated equally. We applaud the Allentown City Council on Wednesday night's vote, and we look forward to the rest of Pennsylvania following suit. At the same time, we urge the media to continue shining a light on legislation that aims to provide individuals with the ability to take care of and be responsible for the people they love most.