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Debate begins in Lincoln over gay rights ordinance

By   /   April 25, 2012  /   12 Comments

LINCOLN — A Lincoln independent business group is trying to get its hands on a city attorney’s opinion dating to the 1980s because it could have some bearing on an anti-discrimination ordinance headed for the Lincoln City Council.

Councilman Carl Eskridge has said he will introduce an ordinance this week that would ban discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity – similar to an ordinance recently passed in Omaha.

Coby Mach, head of the Lincoln Independent Business Association, confirmed today that his group has asked the city of Lincoln for an opinion from the early 1980s relating to the classes protected by city ordinance. Mach said “folks that were around at that time” recall the city attorney saying that adding a new protected class would have to be done by changing the city charter, not by ordinance. It takes a vote of the people to change the charter. It only takes a vote of the City Council to introduce or amend an ordinance.

“We’re doing research to see what the effect would be on businesses but we have not taken any position for or against this,” Mach said. “And in fact, we still haven’t even read the ordinance.”

The city of Lincoln already protects people from discrimination in public accommodation, housing and employment based on their race, color, religion, gender, disability, national origin, familial status, ancestry, age or marital status. Mach said the city attorney’s opinion apparently referred to other classifications, not just sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, City Attorney Rod Confer said the city attorney’s opinion will not be shared with LIBA because it’s protected by attorney-client privilege. He would not discuss the contents of the opinion, either.

“If I tell you what the opinions say, then I’m waiving attorney-client privilege,” Confer told Nebraska Watchdog.

He said state law gives the city authority to pass such an ordinance and there’s no need to amend the city charter. Confer cited a 1981 attorney general’s opinion on whether cities have the right to enact ordinances that would protect classifications of people not specifically mentioned in state law. However, the opinion (which was sought by then state sen. David Landis, who now works for the city) said clarifying language might be helpful, since the statute could be interpreted both ways.

Mach had not yet been informed of Confer’s decision not to release the records on Wednesday, but added that LIBA’s request for the data is not indicative of its plans to endorse or oppose the ordinance.

The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce will take a neutral position on the ordinance, according to president Wendy Birdsall.

“We’ve got business leaders on both sides and no clear consensus,” she said.

Earlier this week, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said on Jack & John In the Morning, a KLIN radio show, he supports the ordinance and there’s no need for a charter amendment.

“These things are a matter of societal fairness in my opinion,” he said.

Beutler said gays and lesbians occupy “many high positions” and do “great work” for the university, businesses and government.

“We want to keep them here and we want to make them feel welcome,” Beutler said.

He said the ordinance would have protections for religious objections for churches and religious businesses. He noted that churches in the Civil War said slavery was dictated by the Bible and Mormonism once allowed polygamy, but those beliefs don’t have to be incorporated into the law of a democratic society.

He said the ordinance would not require employers to provide benefits to domestic partners.

In other news related to the ordinance, Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown told the Associated Press he is praying about whether to testify on Lincoln’s ordinance during the May 7 public hearing. Brown came under fire after testifying against Omaha’s ordinance, with some calling for his firing.

Reported by Deena Winter, deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter has been a journalist for over 20 years, writing stories for the Northwood Gleaner, Bismarck Tribune, Associated Press, Denver Post and Lincoln Journal Star before joining Watchdog.

  • Victor Ree

    There are few things more entertaining than a football coach telling the world how they should love because of how he interprets the Bible. It’s SIN-SATIONAL! He’s more than Old Testament, he’s BOLD TESTES-MENT!

  • Truth-or-Dare

    I personally have no “dog in this fight”, but read the article because I was curious what the natives in Lincoln were thinking when it comes to new regulations for the citizens in the city. Actually I was rather amused that the only comment so far is regarding a football coach and not something relevant to the discussion at hand!

    Victor, it might have been much more informative if you had rendered your OWN opinion regarding the ordinance and the reason for your stand. It is your First Amendment right to state your position. What is NOT helpful is the degrading tone of your comment about Ron Brown who is a Christian and is not afraid to say so. He puts his position forth, like he did in Omaha, and HE also has a First Amendment right to do so!!! So is your beef with a Nebraska assistant football coach speaking out ? In case you haven’t noticed, First Amendment rights apply to ALL legal citizens of this country, not just a few!

    It is always interesting to me that instead of progressives stating why their position is valid in any discussion, they would rather be down right hateful and divisive. It may a great diversionary tactic but does absolutely nothing to further intelligent discussion! One has to wonder if it is because they don’t KNOW what their position is!

    So dear Victor . . . do YOU have a personal position here or are you just warming up for a day of derogatory comments . . .trolling to make interested parties miserable???!!! Thank YOU for providing me with my chuckle of the day . . . . I am quite positive that Ron Brown will be just devastated by your references to his personal attributes!!!

  • SoWhat???

    What I find ironic is the activist groups stating that Lincoln needs to pass this ordinance so that they won’t be at a competitive disadvantage versus Omaha when it comes to competing for these mentally defective GLBT/FUs. I wonder how long it will take some Dem state senator to introduce a statewide bill in the next session after both Omaha and Lincoln declare themselves havens for this minority of mental defectives???

  • Support but also want transparency!

    I support the anti-discrimination proposal by city councilman Eskridge but am extremely disappointed by the stonewalling tactics by Mayor Beutler and city attorney Rod Confer. Where is the transparency promised by our Mayor? We’ve seen this before when they played this game around a legal dispute over the appointment process for councilwoman Schimek to replace the late Jane Synder. In my view, these tactics hurt our cause because it makes it look as though we are hiding something from the public. If we need to do this by amending the City Charter then we need to get to it. The more I think about it the more I am of the mind that the politicians wouldn’t want to do it that way because then we the people get all the credit for doing the right thing.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/gerardharbison/blog/RWP_blog.html Gerard Harbison

    If you want to be ‘welcoming’, what would be more welcoming than a democratic vote of the people?

    Is there any evidence gay people in Lincoln are suffering substantial discrimination? I have a general problem with passing laws to solve non-problems. Every law comes with overhead and unintended consequences. I should say right away the same goes for most of the protections already granted by the city. If there is evidence some group of people is being excluded from public accommodations for arbitrary or capricious reasons, there is at least an argument for an anti-discrimination ordinance. If there is no such evidence, then the law is merely more-or-less expensive symbolism.

  • Mark Van Kekerix

    To Gerard H: The same argument about needing “evidence” that there is an LGBT discrimination problem before acting was used here in Omaha as well. In a study published in February at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, it was made abundantly clear that such discrimination did exist.

    This was a great surprise to many straight people in Omaha – including one city council member who was so surprised by it that he changed his stated position and voted for the Omaha ordinance.

    Of course, to those of us in the LGBT community it was no surprise at all. We have had to fight such discrimination our whole lives; and it saddens us that our straight counterparts simply can’t see it.

    I strongly suspect that anti-gay discrimination public accomodations, housing, and employment does exist in Lincoln (in fact, I know it does because I used to live there). But the vast majority of those outside the LGBT community simply choose not to see it.

  • Mark Van Kekerix

    To “So What?”: Ummm…”mental defectives?” Really? The nineteenth century just called – they’d like your ignorance back.

  • http://loganet.net resistwemuch

    How do I determine if someone is LBGT in order not to discriminate against them?

  • Luke In Lincoln

    When calling a “spade a spade,” it’s quite clear what the intent is when one does that. SO, say like an employer says “I’m letting you go because I don’t like how you present yourself, the way you talk and how you live with an odd roommate.”….that’s pretty clear to me what the inference is.

  • grumpy gramps

    I am a gay man who lived in Omaha and Lincoln and elsewhere in Nebraska from 1980 to 1999. At that time I found those two towns to be extremely open and accepting of gays, surprisingly. I never experienced any kind of discrimination. It may have existed with some people, but I don’t think is became a problem.

  • http://bit.ly/lgbt12 Sujatha

    Should #LGBT Rights Be Considered Human Rights? Should #LGBT Rights Be Accepted Globally? http://bit.ly/lgbt12

  • Jennifer

    I am a native of Lincoln and I am a lesbian. I have never felt discriminated against because of my lifestyle at school, work or out in public. I am not what you woud call a closested lesbian either. I don’t believe a law like this needs to be made. I feel this will hurt people like me more than it will help. Why paint a target on someone when there is no issues.