Manhattan pastors ask for anti-discrimination ordinance

MANHATTAN (KSNT) – On Tuesday, nine religious leaders approached the Manhattan City Commission with a call to action.

In the one page letter, the group is asking the commission to consider approving an ordinance that protects members of the LGBT community in Manhattan from discrimination.

Despite strides the United States has taken in legalizing same sex marriage, these religious leaders say there is still pushback.

“The issue is still a very live one, it’s not a settled matter,” said The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone. “Though the law does seem to be settled on the question of marriage, there’s a lot of questions out there.”

Johnstone is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan.

“There are no federal or states laws prohibiting discrimination in hiring practices or housing,” the letter read. “LGBT people can still be fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“We;re going to lose that family feel if we don’t become a place that is welcoming and open and has protections for people,” said the Rev. Patrick McLaughlin, the associate pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Manhattan.

This is not the first time protection from discrimination has come up on the commission agenda.

In 2011, there was an ordinance was passed. Then, with a new commission seated, the ordinance was overturned after another group of religious leaders in the city objected to it.

Current city leaders are concerned how to implement the ordinance, if it were to go into effect, when there is no backing from the state.

“I’d like to just say there’ll be no discrimination in Manhattan but that wouldn’t be worth me saying it and it wouldn’t really have any legal basis,” said Manhattan mayor Karen McCulloh.

Although concerned, McCulloh said she wants to look at what Lawrence has done to protect it’s LGBT community from discrimination. The Rev. Barbara Krehbiel Gehring, the co-pastor at the Manhattan Mennonite Church, said Lawrence has set a precedent for the state and proves cities can operate without the state.

“We have mechanisms in place in Manhattan if we just have the codes to enforce,” McLaughlin said.

In the letter, faith leaders also clarified some of their views.

“We feel the need to speak out on this issue because religion is often cited as a justification for discriminatory action against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens,” the letter read. “Our religious values oppose such bias and judgment, encouraging instead adherence to the principle of love for neighbor. Discrimination justified by religion is still discrimination.”

Leaders said reading the letter at the city commission was only the first step. These protections, they said, will help foster acceptance and a sense of safety for residents who feel like they can’t show their true selves.

“It’s a pretty terrible feeling,” Johnstone said about having to hide. “It’s a pretty terrible feeling.”

Currently, the commission hasn’t put any discussion about the proposal on the agenda.

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