Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Fails While Non-Binding Measure is Approved

FLAGSTAFF (Observer Update) - An ordinance aimed at extending enforceable legal rights to Flagstaff's gay community appears to have died without a formal vote by the city council, the Arizona Daily Sun reported in their Mar. 3 edition.

After two hours of testimony Monday (Mar. 2) in a council chamber packed with 200 people, the council instead voted 6-1 for a resolution of inclusion that carries no force of law. The anti-discrimination ordinance never came up for a vote, but several councilmembers contended that the proposed ordinance from the statewide gay rights group, Equality Arizona, was too divisive to earn their support.

The ordinance would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of personal characteristics that are protected in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations and education.

It was the subject of three public forums and months of deliberations by the city's Diversity Awareness Commission. A tally of written comments to the panel came out evenly divided: 198 for, 198 against.

The panel issued a report with no recommendations, instead outlining several options that included adopting the ordinance as written, sending it to the city attorney for legal review and raising public awareness of discrimination through more education.

Among councilmembers, only Al White and Rick Swanson said they would support keeping the ordinance alive by sending it out for legal review.

On the other side, Councilmember Scott Overton said he did not support the ordinance because he believed the city would be sued by either the LGBT community or by various local churches if enacted.

"It is imperative to understand that the decision will be challenged either way," Overton said.

That left it to Mayor Sara Presler to propose the resolution on inclusion, saying it was a compromise between the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community for protection from discrimination and the apprehension by the conservative Christian churches that their religious freedom would be trampled.

"I believe this community has reached a tolerable limit," Presler said. "This is enough."

Councilmember Karla Brewster said the resolution was a fair compromise.

"I hope it will be a middle ground between these two groups," Brewster said. "I don't feel [Equality Arizona's proposed] ordinance would be appropriate right now."

The only dissent on the resolution came from Councilmember Joe Haughey, who pointed out that he helped to write the original resolution of inclusion in 2006. It was deliberately non-specific so as not to leave anyone out.

"We don't care if you are an alien from another planet, you are welcome here," Haughey said of the 2006 resolution.

The new resolution of inclusion mentions more than a dozen groups, including those based on age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, martial status, veteran status, familial status, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation and physical characteristics.

Haughey was not convinced."I am concerned we have left some folks out," Haughey said.

One part of the resolution that would result in a specific change in personnel rules affects only the city of Flagstaff's internal policies. City Manager Kevin Burke said that language in the resolution would result in the addition of gender identity as a protected class in terms of employment policies at the city.

The city has had a policy protecting employees from discrimination because of their sexual orientation for several years. City officials have no complaints on record since the policy was enacted.

Senior Pastor Jim Dorman of Christ's Church of Flagstaff said he was happy with the nonbinding resolution.

"I think, overall, their decision is something we can live with and support," Dorman said.

Sarah Friedmann, a local organizer for Equality Arizona, said the council decision was a good first step.

"I think this a step in the right direction," Friedmann said.

But Friedmann said her goal is to eventually have a citywide ordinance to help protect the GLBT community from discrimination in the workplace, housing and other public arenas.

"We want to continue to work with the city and community; that has been our goal from the very beginning."

No comments: