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No vote in sight for Lincoln's fairness ordinance

No vote in sight for Lincoln's fairness ordinance

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As Lincoln's gay community hosts the Star City Pride festival this week, the city's fairness ordinance still is stuck in legal limbo.

The ordinance, which would protect gays, lesbians and transgender individuals from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing, was approved by the City Council in May 2012.

But a successful petition drive, sponsored by a number of conservative Protestant churches and the community's Catholic churches, required the City Council to officially repeal the ordinance or put the question on a ballot for all Lincoln voters to decide.

However, there was no deadline for council action. And the council has done neither over the past year.

So the unenforceable ordinance remains on the books during the annual Star City Pride festival, which concludes Saturday night after a day of kids games, food vendors, a beer garden and live performances on N Street from 17th to 19th streets.

Local leaders active on both sides of the fairness ordinance argument appear content to leave the issue in legal limbo and instead focus on the impact of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prohibited the federal government from providing benefits to legally married gay couples, among other things, and California's Proposition 8, which repealed the state's gay marriage law.

Council Chairman Carl Eskridge, sponsor of the ordinance, continues to say he expects the council to put the issue to a public vote. But Eskridge said he doesn't know when that vote might occur.

An incident last summer, where Lincoln lesbian Charlie Rogers faked an anti-gay crime, was troubling to the gay community. "So we took a break,” Eskridge said this week.

Because of potential changes with the recent Supreme Court decision, there is not as strong a push to put the Lincoln issue on the ballot, he said.

The community group that led support for the fairness ordinance is not pushing for an election. 

“I think there are still a lot of good intentions from the City Council and mayor's office. There has been a lot of excitement in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. But I think it is a little too early for me to say where that (local fairness ordinance) is going to be headed,” said Tyler Richard, president of OutLinc, a local social, education and advocacy organization.

The groups that spearheaded the petition drive also are waiting to see what happens as a result of the Supreme Court decisions.

The petition leaders once had considered going to court to require the council to do something with the fairness ordinance, officially repeal it or put it on the ballot.

But that is not likely to happen, said Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First and one of the leaders of the petition drive.

Bydalek said he is focusing on potential state action.

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing this fall on state issues relating to the recent court decision, said Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, Judiciary Committee chairman.

The committee will look at the economic and legal issues with Nebraska's current constitutional amendment prohibiting marriages and civil unions between individuals of the same sex.

That amendment, passed by voters in November 2000, bans legal recognition of same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships or other same-sex relationships and is considered one of the most restrictive in the nation.

The Legislature needs to take a real hard look at what it means to have that restrictive amendment in place, Ashford said.

That hearing has been tentatively set for Oct. 5.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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