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Lincoln passes gay rights ordinance; opponents vow referendum

By   /   May 14, 2012  /   9 Comments

The Lincoln City Council voted 5-0 today to pass a gay rights ordinance similar to the one passed in Omaha – with the five Democrats on the council voting “yes” and the two Republicans abstaining from voting.

The ordinance protects gay and transgendered people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

Opponents now have 15 days to decide whether to refer the ordinance to the people if they can gather about 2,500 signatures.  Family First Nebraska and the Nebraska Family Council have vowed to attempt such a referendum.

The two Republicans – Adam Hornung and Jon Camp – cited Attorney General Jon Bruning’s recent legal opinion that extending civil rights protection to a class not named in state statute must done via a charter amendment, which must go to a vote of the people. That opinion mirrored a Lincoln city attorney’s opinion in the early 1980s, and the subsequent charter amendment failed at the polls.

But the Democrats on the council said the current city attorney, Rod Confer, has issued a new legal opinion that the city has the right to enact such legislation by ordinance.

Councilman Carl Eskridge, who sponsored the ordinance, said passing the law would be good for business and tell the world Lincoln is a progressive community.

“Prejudice and discrimination are never right in this community for any reason,” he said.

The council approved an amendment that strengthened religious exemptions requested by the Catholic diocese – and Councilwoman DiAnna Schimek said the resulting legislation does not detract from freedom of religion. She said the council had a responsibility to vote on the ordinance rather than pass off the issue to voters.

“It is important for us to do this,” she said. “It is a sign that we are a caring community.”

Councilman Doug Emery said some people who testified before the council threw out some things “to muddy waters” and “incite emotionalism.” He credited Eskridge for having the courage of his conviction to press on. Despite many opponents’ calls for a public vote, he said, “that’s why they call this a representative form of government.” And he suggested if voters didn’t like it, they could vote him out of office.

But Councilman Jon Camp said he felt the issue should go to the public.

“I did hear a resounding plea to put this to a vote of the people and I really think that should be the process,” he said.

Councilman Adam Hornung said when he became an attorney he swore to uphold the state constitution and law, and so he felt the council must heed the attorney general’s opinion that such a change should be made by charter amendment. He said participating in the vote would be a violation of the council’s duties, so he abstained. Camp then abstained, too.

Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First Nebraska, said his group will spearhead the gathering of signatures to get the issue on the ballot, preferably in the spring 2013 municipal election.

Reported by Deena Winter, deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter is a reporter for NebraskaWatchdog.org. Contact her at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @DeenaNEWatchdog.

  • Prairie Dog

    Very Confusing: “Attorney General Jon Bruning’s recent legal opinion that extending civil rights protection to a class not named in state statute must [be] done via a charter amendment, which must go to a vote of the people. ” Does this mean the city charter? And does it mean that no class of people can be protected unless their class is named in state statute? Is this one state statute that names all classes that can have their civil rights protected and the unicameral just adds names of classes to it from time to time? Or a separate statute for each class? Or does it just mean that Jon Bruning wants it known that he is anti-gay without having to say so in so many words? (That’s probably it.) The Declaration of Independence says “all men” so why does each category of person have to be validated by being named in a state statute? I will never understand Nebraska government. I do know, however,

    “GOOD ECOLOGY IS GOOD ECONOMY.”

    Prairie Dog

  • Eric

    Where can I sign the petition, Deena?

  • SoWhat???

    The GLBT/TFU mentally ill folks are scared to death of having any kind of public vote on special legal protections because they know with 100% certainty the proposition will lose. Whenever/wherever people actually vote on “gay rights” or “gay marriage”, it loses 100% of the time.

  • Christian Conservative

    Prairie Dog,

    You might want to actually go and read the opinion for yourself. Written basically by the expert in Jon’s office on municipal/local government, it’s actually a well-reasoned analysis of the situation. It basically states that any inclusion of extra classifications of groups for anti-discrimination should be done through inclusion in the city charter, and not by ordinance. It also goes on to say that such groups should not expand on the groups already included in state law, and states the reasons for coming to that conclusion.

    I’ve been a proponent of requiring it to be included in the city charter. If the goal is permanency, then the city charter would make more sense. The ordinance they just passed can be overturned by any future governing body and mayor. it’s simply a change in ordinance, period.

    I also believe this issue will end up being resolved in one of three ways:

    1. It will go to referendum, and the people of Lincoln will decide. I’d be surprised if FRC doesn’t gather the necessary signatures to put it on the ballot.

    2. The city gets sued and it goes to court. If that happens, I’m in agreement with the AG’s opinion, and think that the ordinance will likely be struck by the courts.

    3. The state legislature takes control of the issue next session, and preempts local governments from having a say in anti-discrimination in the state.

  • Civil Rights For All

    @Christian Conservative

    I have read the opinion a find it to be a load of the most specious and inarticulate nonsense I have ever wasted my time on. However, I give you the following as a rebuttal.

    Chapter 20; Section 113

    “Any incorporated city may enact ordinances and any county may adopt resolutions which are substantially equivalent to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act, the Nebraska Fair Housing Act, and sections 20-126 to 20-143 and 48-1219 to 48-1227 or which are more comprehensive than such acts and sections in the protection of civil rights.”

    Please note that this section seems to be saying that an incorporated city (Omaha and Lincoln are incorporated cities) may pass ordinances that meet one of two criteria:

    1. Incorporated cities may pass ordinances which are “_substantially equivalent_ to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act, the Nebraska Fair Housing Act, and sections 20-126 to 20-143 and 48-1219 to 48-1227.

    or

    2. Incorporated cities may pass ordinances which are “_more comprehensive_ than such acts and sections in the protection of civil rights.”

    The second part of 20-113 authorizes/allows incorporated cities the ability to pass civil rights protections that go beyond what state law defines.

    Senator Beau McCoy knew this quite well when he introduced LB912 to try and nullify the second part of 20-113 by limiting civil rights ordinances to what state statues define as protected classes and to nullify any ordinances already passed. As LB912 was indefinitely postponed in committee McCoy went to the one person who he could be confident would give an opinion that was substantially the same to LB912 – Jon Bruning. And not surprisingly Activist State Attorney Bruning decided to legislate from his office and gave McCoy everything he wanted in spades.

    The cities of Omaha and Lincoln have done nothing illegal by adding sexual orientation to their existing protected classes as they are, and always were, authorized to do so under state statutes.

    Now all I await is the inevitable lawsuit and court case to sort out the whole conflicting matter.

  • http://nebraskawatchdog resistwemuch

    “Should” is permissive. “Shall” is regulatory.

  • James

    So, when do heterosexual obtain legal protection from discrimination… or, Is this tolerance thing just a one-way street?

  • Watching From Lincoln

    Well, the voters certainly spoke to their opinion of AG Bruning’s competency yesterday, now didn’t they? As for the ignorance displayed here by those who still fail to understand the concept of separation of church and state or that as a member of the majority that they will never be discriminated against and lack both the compassion and ability of higher reasoning to understand the position of those that are discriminated against, one can only hope that one day the blind will see and those of closed mind will find enlightenment.

  • James

    Watching From Lincoln,

    “…as a member of the majority that they will never be discriminated against…”

    “NEVER” is a rather strong word, and I’m going to venture an educated guess and say that your claim is very likely false. Here is a simple example of how you are obviously wrong: women are the majority gender in this country, yet they are considered a class which is discriminated against. Not to mention, all the recent random, injudicious beatings of white citizens around the country by blacks in retribution for the Travon Martin shooting in Florida.

    By the way, the Separation of Church and State was meant to protect religious individuals from persecution by the State; of course you are going to have religious individuals in the gov’t because there are religious individuals in the population, and their concerns are just as important as those of non-religious folk. Liberals have purposefully distorted the Separation of Church and State clause in order to justify their open War on Religion.

    Again, tolerance should go both ways.

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