Petitions to overturn Omaha's legal protections for gay and transgender residents are now being distributed, and organizers are confident that they can quickly surpass the roughly 11,400 signatures required to put the measure before voters.
The petition drive is counting on support from some local religious congregations and political conservatives. If successful, the effort would alter the tone of next spring's city elections by injecting a hotly debated social issue into mayoral and City Council campaigns.
“We're confident we'll get the signatures fairly rapidly,” said Patrick Bonnett, executive director of the Omaha Liberty Project, a coalition that's behind the petition effort. “After that, we'll probably take our time to validate the signatures that we know we have and give the city and county governments time to get through the fall presidential election,” Bonnett said.
The coalition is sponsoring training sessions for petition circulators, and signature-gathering efforts have begun within some area congregations.
Several hundred petition circulators are now working to gather the needed signatures, Bonnett said.
Besides Bonnett, a local Tea Party organizer, the group's members and supporters include Femi Awodele — a north Omaha community leader and executive director of Christian Couples Fellowship International — and the Heritage Coalition. That coalition, made up of local clergy, issued a proclamation earlier this year opposing the expansion of the city's anti-discrimination laws to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
Talk of legal challenges or petition drives to repeal protections for gay and transgender residents quickly surfaced after a packed room watched the City Council narrowly approve the anti-discrimination measure in March.
The council's 4-3 vote gave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Omaha the ability to file complaints with the city's Human Rights and Relations Department if they were fired from a job because of their orientation, suffered other workplace discrimination or were somehow refused a public accommodation. Religious organizations are exempt from the regulations.
The petition drive seeks to adopt an ordinance that deletes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes within the City of Omaha and for City of Omaha contracts.
Should petition organizers gather enough signatures, the proposal would be forwarded to the City Council, which has the authority to enact or reject the proposal within 30 days of receiving it.
The proposal would go to a public vote if the council does not enact it.
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