Mayor Chris Beutler said today he would ask the City Council to schedule a City Charter election on the housing and employment rights of gay citizens. The Fairness Ordinance passed by the City Council and signed by the Mayor May 14 protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace, in housing and in public accommodations. A petition drive to put the resolution to a vote prevented the ordinance from taking effect May 30. In order to have a City Charter vote, the Council would have to repeal the Fairness Ordinance.
The Mayor said the action is necessary because the petition was improperly drafted. He said recent court rulings state that petitions for a ballot issue shall have only one subject or proposition for each vote. Beutler said a successful legal challenge to the petition drive would deny petitioners their right to referendum, but allowing a flawed ballot issue to proceed would create an unfair election. Because the City Council does not have the power to place an ordinance on the ballot, he said a Charter election is the most fair resolution.
"This administration does not fear a vote of the people," Beutler said. "We called for a vote on the arena when we were not required to do so. We happily included a vote of the people requirement in the recent legislative bill allowing an additional local option sales tax. Furthermore, we do not believe that the fair-minded citizens of this city will deny rights to our gay citizens that they now enjoy in 160 other cities.
"Our only misgivings about the election relate to the potential for divisiveness and a certain sadness that basic American freedoms are still so contentious when applied to a long suffering group of citizens," he said.
The Mayor said no law-abiding citizen should live in fear of losing a job or housing because of who they are, and those opposed to ordinance are choosing discrimination and division over fairness and unity.
"Right now, the City protects the civil rights of people based on disability, familial status, ancestry, age and marital status," the Mayor said. "Those categories were adopted by the City Council without a vote of the people. Yet the petitioners did not and are not calling for a public vote on the rights of these groups. They have focused solely on one vulnerable group, undermining their claim that discrimination protection should not be enacted without an election.
"The claim that religious freedom is the issue doesn't withstand scrutiny either," he said. "We specifically adopted language granting a religious exemption that was suggested by attorneys for one of the churches. Make no mistake about it, the petitioners are not fighting for the right to vote, they are fighting for the right to discriminate."