Grand Island rejects gay-rights ordinance - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 7:48 am
Grand Island rejects gay-rights ordinance

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — After emotional debate Tuesday night, the City Council rejected an ordinance that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The council voted 8-2 against the proposal after rejecting separate amendments that would have postponed a decision for 30 days and placed the ordinance before voters.

The measure would have made it illegal to fail to hire or promote based on sexual orientation.

The proposal also would have outlawed failing to rent or sell a house to gays, lesbians, bisexual or transgender people, or failing to wait on people in any business in the city due to their sexual orientation.

Councilman Larry Carney said he proposed the ordinance because “fair play and justice do count.'' Carney said Grand Island should not be a place that tolerates discrimination.

But Councilman Mitch Nickerson said the city of about 50,000 should not be a “gay-friendly'' city. He said the ordinance was in opposition to city morals.

Among those testifying in favor of the measure was Peggy Lange of Dannebrog, Neb., who said she is a lesbian and Vietnam War veteran.

“I put my life on the line for every one of you,'' Lange said.

Grand Island business owner Ray Absher urged the council to vote no. He said the proposal was not needed and would have “unintended consequences.''

The Grand Island decision marked the third time this year that local elected leaders of Nebraska cities voted on special protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

In March, the Omaha City Council gave 4-3 approval to an ordinance that prohibits sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing, hiring or public accommodations.

Opponents of that measure have recently started gathering petition signatures. If successful, they could force the council to decide between repealing the ordinance or putting it up for public vote.

The Lincoln City Council passed a similar measure in May on a 5-2 vote, but opponents quickly gathered more than enough signatures to rescind the ordinance.

Councilman Carl Eskridge, who introduced the Lincoln proposal, said Tuesday that the council is likely to ask voters to amend the city charter to include anti-discrimination language sometime next year.

Leaders of the Nebraska Family Council, which opposes the Lincoln and Omaha measures, will decide their next move after the November election, said Karen Bowling, the group's associate director.

Additional questions about the gay-rights ordinances were raised in May when Attorney General Jon Bruning issued a legal opinion stating that cities don't have the authority to create new protected classes.

City Attorney Bob Sivick noted that the Grand Island council eliminated anti-discrimination measures in 2006 when it revoked Chapter 11 of the city code.

The thinking at the time was that the civil rights protections duplicated those in federal law, Sivick said.

The revocation meant that Sivick had to write a new Chapter 11 — but it addressed only the sexual orientation issue raised by Carney.

“If this passes, it would mean that Grand Island would have protections only for sexual orientation,” not for race, gender or age, Sivick said before the meeting.

The Grand Island proposal granted exemptions to the U.S. government, the state, Hall County and religious organizations.

World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.

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