Archive for Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Anti-discrimination ordinance upheld by Topeka voters

Fred Phelps’ granddaughter loses bid to unseat gay councilwoman

March 2, 2005

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— Voters here Tuesday night narrowly rejected repealing an anti-discrimination ordinance, an effort led by the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., known for his church's intense anti-gay pickets in the Kansas capital and across the nation.

And one of Phelps' granddaughters fell far short in her efforts to unseat an openly gay member of the City Council.

Phelps sought to remove from the books a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays in municipal hiring. The repeal measure also would have barred Topeka from reinstating such protections for 10 years.

In final, unofficial results, 53 percent opposed the repeal, with 14,285 voting "no," and 12,795 voting "yes."

Phelps' granddaughter, Jael Phelps, was among three candidates challenging openly gay council member Tiffany Muller in a nonpartisan primary.

Complete results showed Jael Phelps finishing a distant fourth and Muller, second, allowing Muller to advance to an April 5 general election. Attorney Richard Harmon finished first and also advanced to the general election.

Voters differed on how much Phelps' support for repealing the ordinance dictated their votes. Barry Elfant, 52, said he voted not to repeal it, but not because of Phelps. "The whole thing is just stupid -- it's 2005," he said. "I'm ashamed to be a resident of a community still struggling with these issues."

Some voters who supported the repeal found the Phelps' church's picketing offensive.

Jim Paramore, a 65-year-old retired teacher, is "not for Fred Phelps." He said he voted to repeal the ordinance because, "My feeling is that there doesn't need to be special consideration made for homosexuality."

Jael Phelps said she doesn't mind the focus on her church's anti-gay picketing or its attempt to repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance. Muller, however, is frustrated because issues normally prominent in city races, such as creating jobs, aren't being debated.

Last year, after the city council appointed Muller to fill a vacancy, she sought a broad anti-discrimination ordinance applying to private employment, housing and public accommodations. When it became clear the council wouldn't approve it, she and other backers settled for a narrower ordinance in November.

Only three local governments in Kansas have such an ordinance. One in Shawnee County applies only to government employment, but one in Lawrence, home of Kansas University, is broader.

The senior Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church then launched a petition drive against the ordinance.

That wasn't surprising. He began its anti-gay pickets more than a decade ago, with signs such as "God hates fags." His church's demonstration at the 1998 funeral of Wyoming beating victim Matthew Shepherd led to his portrayal in the play "The Laramie Project."

His targets include churches -- even conservative ones -- he deems too soft on homosexuality. He said he didn't care how the vote turned out because his job is to preach.

"This fight has just barely begun," he said.

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