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Allentown,
Pa., ordinance to prevent antigay bias in jobs, housing
upheld

Allentown,
Pa., ordinance to prevent antigay bias in jobs, housing
upheld

A Pennsylvania court on Thursday ruled that Allentown can have an ordinance protecting residents from discrimination in housing or employment matters because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The city's powers under its 1996 home-rule charter empower it to police discrimination, a three-judge commonwealth court panel said in reversing a Lehigh County judge. The county judge had sided in June 2004 with four landlords who had challenged the law. Commonwealth court judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer said home-rule law restrictions on regulating business did not prevent the city from adopting the ordinance against gay bias, as the county judge had ruled. The ordinance had remained in place while the appeal was pending. Home-rule charters generally give cities greater power to govern themselves. Jubelirer noted the irony that in the case of antidiscrimination ordinances, a small city without home rule would have automatically withstood the landlords' legal attack. "Had Allentown not adopted home rule, which is designed to give a municipality broad powers, the trial court would have upheld the city's authority to enact this ordinance," she wrote. The decision relied heavily on a December ruling by the state supreme court that allowed Philadelphia to extend worker benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. Randall L. Wenger, the lawyer for Allentown landlords Gerry Hartman, John Lapinski, Robert Roycroft, and Debbie Roycroft, said they had not decided whether to appeal further. He said Jubelirer's opinion employed "an outcome-based rationale." "I think it's difficult for the judiciary to closely follow legal precedent and closely follow statutes if it means they have to make a decision that would appear that they don't respect homosexuals as a group," Wenger said. The landlords opposed the ordinance because of their Christian moral beliefs about homosexuality, he said. Dan Anders, who represented the city, said the Philadelphia case established that cities, under their police powers, are allowed to have ordinances that fight the effects of discrimination. Home-rule restrictions on business regulation only limit how businesses can be forced to take certain actions, he said, whereas the antibias ordinance was a prohibition on certain behavior. "It's not a duty or an obligation put upon employers; it's a protection for the citizens of the city," he said. (AP)

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