By Chris Dyer | LINCOLN, NE -- With its two GOP councilmen abstaining, the Lincoln, Nebraska City Council on a 5-0 partisan vote approved expanding the city’s civil rights protections to LGBT people Monday evening. The five Democrats -- Carl Eskridge, DiAnna Schimek, Gene Carroll, Doug Emery and Jonathan Cook -- voted yes while Republicans -- Adam Hornung and Jon Camp -- abstained, saying they had a conflict of interest.
“Prejudice and discrimination are never right in this community for any reasons,” said Councilman Carl Eskridge, sponsor of the new ordinance change said after the vote. “This is good for Lincoln. It says this is a progressive community, open to whoever chooses to come... a welcoming city... a respectful community to live, work, play and raise families,” he said.
According to the Lincoln Journal-Star newspaper, two conservative right wing christian advocacy groups will be organizing a petition drive to stop the proposal from going into effect until there is a city-wide vote on the issue.
The Nebraska Family Council and Family First will be distributing petitions to collect the more than 2,500 signatures of registered city voters needed to get the issue on the ballot, said Al Riskowski, executive director of Nebraska Family Council. Under a provision of the city's charter, the coalition has just 15 days to collect the signatures.
In a six-and-a-half hour marathon hearing a week ago Monday, the council heard from more than 70 people expressing their opinions, for and against, the proposed ordinance that would protect gay and transgender citizens from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Lincoln's amendment says that decisions about whether you can be hired or not hired, fired or not fired, or denied housing cannot be based on who you live with or who you have a relationship with.
The Omaha City Council recently added similar anti-discrimination protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to its civil rights ordinance.
Councilman Adam Hornung said he had a conflict of interest because he felt the council vote violated state law.Hornung said he was relying on a recent state attorney general’s opinion that said city civil rights law could only be expanded by a vote of the people or through legislation passed by the Unicameral.
The original civil rights language was an amendment to the city charter, approved by a city-wide vote in 1966, Horning pointed out.Several other categories -- familial status, age and disability -- were later added by a City Council vote.
The recent attorney general’s opinion also is a primary reason for the referendum campaign to get the issue on a city-wide ballot, according to Riskowski. ~ The Lincoln Journal-Star
The statute used by the attorney general to argue that cities don’t have the authority to go beyond state law actually includes words allowing cities to pass ordinances that are more comprehensive than state law, Lincoln City Attorney Rod Confer argued.
“This is an issue of basic fairness,” Lincoln’s Mayor, Chris Beutler said. “No one should live in fear of losing a job or housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lincoln is the capital city of the state whose motto is ‘Equality before the law.’ It’s time to make those words ring true.”
Opponents said the ordinance would impinge upon their religious freedoms by requiring them to accept behavior they consider immoral.
“You just create a very difficult environment in the state if you start allowing various cities to have new protected classes,” said the Rev. Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council.