Same-sex spouses of Bethlehem Area School District employees can have employee benefits like traditional married couples, district officials said Monday night.
Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania, hailed the administrative decision as a landmark, saying the Bethlehem Area School District may be the first government body in Pennsylvania to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state as being equal to a traditional marriage.
“You are to be applauded for your work in advancing equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Shanker told board members on Monday night.
The district is not extending benefits to gay couples in domestic partner arrangements – like the cities of Allentown and Easton do, said school board President Mike Faccinetto. Such benefits are also common among many of the Lehigh Valley's largest private sector employers, Shanker said.
However, the district did agree to honor a same sex marriage license provided by an employee, Faccinetto said. The decision was the administration’s interpretation of a district collective bargaining agreement, though the board was consulted before the decision was made final, Faccinetto said.
Same sex marriages are not legal in Pennsylvania, but they are legal in six other states, including nearby New York and the District of Columbia.
“This school district has dozens of employees with same-sex spouses who are unable to legally marry in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Shanker said. “These teachers, janitors, administrators and other staff members work hard to educate our community’s students and to create a safe and healthy learning environment for all kids. They deserve to be treated with equality by this school district regardless of whether the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania treats them with equality.”
Shanker said the district will reap several benefits by providing this benefit, including the ability to retain and attract talented lesbian and gay staff members.
“You will find that this common-sense policy change will be noticed by LGBT students in the school district – students who may take solace in knowing that their school district respects people like them,” Shanker said.