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Anti-Gay Drive is Short on Names

Petition against Allentown's new ordinance has only 1,411 of 2,000 signatures needed, city finds. Group has 10 days to get more to sign.

[ALLENTOWN, PA] - A petition seeking to remove housing and job protections for homosexuals under Allentown's human relations law fell nearly 600 signatures short and was deemed insufficient by the city clerk Tuesday.

City Clerk Michael P. Hanlon rejected 1,170 signatures of the 2,581 filed by Citizens for Traditional Values, a group that objects to the gay-rights section of the ordinance adopted by City Council in April.

Two thousand valid signatures were necessary to either force City Council to repeal the law or bring a referendum question to city voters, asking them to repeal the law.

More than half of the signatures Hanlon eliminated were by people who later alleged that petition circulators provided misleading information to convince them to sign.

Under the direction of city solicitor Robert W. Brown, Hanlon factored in 637 declarations from people who said they did not intend to sign a petition that would revoke a law guaranteeing civil rights for homosexuals.

The Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance collected more than 700 of the declarations - 29 percent of the signers - but nearly 100 of them were eliminated by Hanlon for other reasons.

However, a leader of Citizens for Traditional Values said the group's lawyers are preparing to challenge the legality of the declarations in court.

"We think that those are going to be questionable," said Karl K. Kercher, the former executive assistant to Mayor Joseph S. Daddona, who is leading the drive. "There doesn't seem to be any precedent for removing names."

The group also will resume its signature-gathering efforts, Kercher said. The city's home rule charter now gives the group 10 days to make up the signature shortfall.

PA-GALA, meanwhile, filed its own objections to the petition with the Lehigh County Election Board, Lehigh County Court and the city clerk. That group's contention is that only 1,061 of the signatures on the petition were valid, said Elizabeth Bradbury, a PA-GALA leader.

"We feel that the petitioners must stop doing this," Bradbury said. "It's time that they recognize that they don't have the support to keep going on."

Also on Tuesday, two councilmen who support the petition urgedcouncil President David M. Howells Sr. to call a special meeting within 10 days to consider whether it was legal for Hanlon to use the declarations to pull names off the petition.

The contention of Councilmen David K. Bausch and Louis J. Hershman is that only the Election Board has the power to remove names from a petition.

Brown's argument for allowing the declarations is that the referendum petitions are different from nominating petitions because the city charter allows referendum organizers 10 days to make up shortfalls.

Asked if he believed if signers who thought they were lied to by petition circulators should be allowed to have their names removed, Bausch said they should if their declarations are notarized and then approved by the Election Board or the courts.

"The voters should have a voice," Bausch said. "That's why we put the referendum in the charter. If there is enough interest, it shouldn't be up to some politicians who don't like it or some bureaucrats who don't like it, to scuttle it."

The petition signatures did not have to be notarized. The circulators did have to sign a notarized statement avowing the signatures were valid and gathered truthfully.

In light of charges that signatures were gathered under false pretenses, City Councilwoman Gail Hoover said she wondered whether the petition circulators should be subject to criminal penalties or fines. "It's like having a frivolous lawsuit," she said.

The petitioning group says it is fighting a "gay agenda" to legitimize the homosexual lifestyle and make same-sex marriages legal. Supporters of the 3-month-old city law say the debate is about nothing more than ensuring that gays and lesbians are not fired from jobs or evicted fromtheir homes simply because of their sexual orientation.

The human relations law prohibits discrimination and is intended to ensure equal opportunities in employment, housing and use of public accommodations. The ordinance as originally written guarantees those rights for all, "regardless of race, color, sex, creed."

The revised law adopted in April applies the protections to all, "regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry or place of birth, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, age or use of a guide or support animal because of blindness, deafness or physical disability."

Council adopted the new law by a 5-2 vote on April 3. Bausch and Hershman, who later became a petition circulator, were the objectors.

Of the signatures Hanlon rejected, 354 were people who were not registered voters in the city; 62 signers gave an address that did not match voter registration records; 50 were on a petition that did not have the new ordinance or proposed ballot question attached; 35 were illegible; and 32 were duplicates.

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