The Lawrence CityCommission gave approval Tuesday to amend the city's human relations ordinance to extend protection from discrimination to homosexuals.
Supporters of a decade-long effort in Lawrence to protect homosexuals from being fired, denied housing or refused service in public places because of their sexual orientation declared victory Tuesday.
In a 3-2 decision, Lawrence city commissioners gave initial approval to amending the city's human relations ordinance to include the words "sexual orientation," thus giving homosexuals the ability to file complaints with the city over allegation of discrimination based on sexual preferences.
After the ordinance's expected adoption next week and publication in the newspaper, Lawrence will become the first city in Kansas to specifically extend anti-discrimination protections to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
"Sweet victory!" said Lynne Green, co-chair of Simply Equal, the community coalition that proposed the change five months ago. "It's only taken 10 years, but this is a safer town today."
The Rev. Leo Barbee Jr., pastor of Victory Bible Church and a leading opponent of the amendment, found a different message in the commission's vote.
"We have put our stamp of approval on immorality -- you can go out and do your deviant behavior with impunity," he said after the meeting at city hall. "I hope and pray for our community."
The commission's formal vote wasn't a surprise. Commissioners already had taken stands on the issue -- Jo Andersen, Allen Levine and John Nalbandian for the amendment; Bonnie Augustine and Mayor Bob Moody against it. Nonetheless, all commissioners listened patiently as 50 people made their way to the wooden podium in the commission chambers to make their views known.
Many of the 20 people speaking out against the amendment argued that the change would spark costly litigation, erode family values, restrict constitutional rights and oppose the wishes of most Lawrence residents.
Susan Smith, who manages an apartment complex in Lawrence, said property managers already bend over backward to avoid even the appearance of perceived discrimination in housing. Now she fears increased legal fees to defend discrimination cases and being forced to keep tabs on which of her tenants are homosexual.
"I will not become any kind of bedroom police on my property," she said.
Ken Rankin, administrator of the Douglas County Christian School, wanted to know how his hiring practices would be affected by the law.
"Is this a real need, or is this another attempt by a radical few to force their sexual practices (upon us)?" he said.
Opponents said they are considering a petition drive to force a public vote to repeal the ordinance. The process could take several weeks.
Ray Samuel, the city's director of human relations/human resources, said religious organizations were specifically exempted from the law. His office, which is charged with enforcing the ordinance, plans to conduct several seminars this fall to educate the public about the law.
Supporters of the amended ordinance welcome increased education.
"Old prejudices die hard," said Russ Shafer-Landau, an assistant professor of philosophy at Kansas University and one of 30 people to speak in favor of the change.
"Homosexuals have long been treated with contempt by society, and their sexual preferences are entirely irrelevant to their job qualifications or their ability to pay the rent."
Jim Scally, a gay man who is assistant to the chancellor at KU, also urged commissioners to pass the new ordinance. University policy already prohibits discrimination atop Mount Oread, but now that protection will extend to the city limits.
"I think it is a matter of simple justice," he said.