SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A divided South Bend City Council has put off a vote on a proposed ordinance extending employment discrimination protection to gays and lesbians.
About 200 people packed the meeting room Monday night, July 26 as council members heard two hours of public debate about the proposal.
Councilman Oliver Davis, one of the measure’s three sponsors, sought the continuance when it became clear he lacked the five votes needed for a majority on the nine-member council.
Opponents of the measure wore red stickers declaring, “Special Status (equals) Special Rights,” while supporters wore white buttons that read, “30-10 Yes!” in reference to the ordinance’s number.
Patrick Mangan, executive director of Citizens for Community Values, a conservative group opposing the measure, argued the proposal would undermine the rights of employers and that there was no evidence of current unfair treatment of homosexuals.
“They have not been treated intolerantly,” Mangan said. “In fact, they have been treated tolerantly, even when a majority of society disagrees with their lifestyle.”
Supporters urged the council to adopt the ordinance, which also would make discrimination against bisexual and transgendered people illegal.
“South Bend describes itself as a 21st century city and a part of being a 21st century city is recognizing the growing diversity of the community,” supporter Abby Smith said.
Former Gov. Joe Kernan, a former mayor of South Bend, told council members failure to adopt a gay rights ordinance would hurt the city’s image.
“The failure to pass 30-10 sends the message that we as a community are intolerant and we are better than that,” Kernan said.
The South Bend Tribune reported that councilwoman Karen White is the swing vote among the nine-member council. She said the proposal’s language was too vague and that she wanted more time for city attorneys to work on it before she decided how she would vote.
Concerns were raised about how religious organizations would be covered by the proposed ordinance, which the council voted 5-4 to table indefinitely.
“I don’t mind taking the time to review the religious exemptions,” said Davis, the ordinance sponsor. “I wanted us to be clear that for 34 years the Human Rights Coalition has understood what the religious language was when it came to other discriminations, but if that means we need to take some more time to see how that applies, I’m OK with that.”