City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick first mentioned the idea to the Journal Star editorial board during his mayoral run this spring. A couple weeks ago, City Councilman Roy Christensen brought it up in an interview with Journal Star reporter Riley Johnson.
These officials, a Democrat and a Republican, have gone on the record to suggest the best possible solution to address the seven-year boondoggle that is Lincoln’s Fairness Ordinance: Rescind the 2012 ordinance and start again.
Approved by the council but paralyzed for seven years by a petition that requires a citywide vote before it can take effect, the measure – which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodation – remains in legal limbo.
Though we’ve long editorialized a state law remains the best solution, so that the same protections exist for all LGBTQ Nebraskans, this year’s proposal was unable to overcome a filibuster in the Legislature.
All this in a state whose motto is “Equality before the law.”
State senators’ refusal to act doesn’t minimize the need, though, to ensure Nebraskans are legally protected from discrimination. And that’s why Lincoln needs to step up where legislators have failed.
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So much has changed since 2012 – including city leadership, as Christensen correctly pointed out. Lincoln has a new mayor, and all seven City Council seats have turned over as well since the Fairness Ordinance was approved.
Most importantly, laws and public opinion have greatly evolved in the last seven years.
The Supreme Court was three years from issuing its 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down bans on same-sex marriage – including in Nebraska, where voters approved a ban in 2000 – when the Fairness Ordinance met ardent opposition.
Furthermore, polling by the Pew Research Center found that 2011 was the tipping point where, for the first time, more Americans favored than opposed same-sex marriage by a 46%-44% margin. In 2019, approval has grown to 61%, while disapproval has dropped to just 31%.
If the 2012 ordinance were put to a vote, we believe Lincolnites would support this important measure and send the message that Lincoln is a welcoming community. But the heartburn and anxiety that would cause the local LGBTQ community would create unbearable collateral damage – not to mention the unspeakable black eye failure could give this city.
Accordingly, we understand the hesitance to place the existing Fairness Ordinance on the ballot and discouraged proponents from rushing it to a vote in this spring’s election. We share the opinions of Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and several councilmembers that people’s right to live free of discrimination shouldn’t be a choice.
The best way for Lincoln to do that, while extricating itself from the City Council's messy backlash its well-intentioned 2012 attempt created, would be to start anew.