Editorial, 5/4: Pass the fairness ordinance

2012-05-03T23:59:00Z Editorial, 5/4: Pass the fairness ordinance JournalStar.com
May 03, 2012 11:59 pm

Lincoln might have been ahead of the curve when an unsuccessful attempt was made 30 years ago to put a gay rights amendment in the city charter.

The city is behind the times now.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned in more than 160 cities, including Omaha, where the City Council put such a ban into place last month.

Last year, the U.S. military approved a change in policy so that American men and women now can serve in the armed forces without hiding their sexual orientation.

Most people who are employed in workplaces of any size in Lincoln have had the experience of working with someone who was openly gay. Many larger employers already have their own policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce is neutral on the proposed ordinance.

In many ways, the proposed fairness ordinance that was introduced Monday by Councilman Carl Eskridge merely codifies practices and attitudes that already have changed.

In a meeting with the Journal Star editorial board, Eskridge noted that the Lincoln Human Rights Commission has fielded only three complaints in the past three years that involved sexual orientation or gender identity. Other communities with similar antidiscrimination laws have not experienced a high volume of cases.

"I don't expect that we're opening a floodgate," Eskridge said.

But there are enough bigots around that Lincoln's gay, lesbian and transgendered residents still experience discrimination. Eskridge said some of his constituents told of being fired after their boss learned they were gay.

Eskridge pointed out that Lincoln is home to the only flagship campus in the Big Ten without legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identify.

The ordinance introduced in Lincoln is similar to the one in Omaha, but also bars discrimination in housing.

It's still a work in progress in that an amendment is being prepared to revise the exemption for religious organizations.

There is little doubt that a culture war still is being fought over the role of gay, lesbian and transgendered people in society. But those battles now focus on issues such as gay marriage.

Surely most Lincoln residents believe that Americans should have the right to hold a job without fear they could be fired because they are gay, or to be refused housing if a landlord believed they were gay.

Passage of the ordinance would put Nebraska's capital city on record in support of fairness for its gay residents. The Journal Star editorial board hopes that it will be put into law by the City Council.

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