SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — An ordinance that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance generated three hours of vigorous public testimony in a public hearing August 13.
The intensity of the debate has one Springfield city council member wanting to send the issue to voters instead of a decision by the city’s elected officials.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, the council is scheduled to resume public discussion on the issue and possibly vote August 27. But Councilman Jeff Seifried has asked city staffers to draft an alternate bill that would send the ordinance to the November ballot instead.
Supporters and opponents of the measure turned out in force at the meeting, filling City Hall to capacity. Those who favored the ordinance described it as a matter of civil rights; opponents said it would infringe on their ability to run a business in accordance with their religious or moral views.
“The reason I’m interested in taking it to a vote of the people is due to the tremendous amount of community input and discussion I feel still needs to happen and that this issue deserves,” Seifried said Monday.
“It forces a community discussion that we need to have.” Seifried, who had indicated tentative support for the bill a week before the first public hearing, said he thinks “two weeks’ discussion is not enough vetting on both sides.”
Stephanie Perkins, deputy director of Missouri‘s LGBTQ advocacy group PROMO, said in an e-mail that similar non-discrimination laws in more than 150 cities and a dozen states all have been passed legislatively, by local councils or state legislatures.
“None of them have been passed by the ballot initiative process,” Perkins said. “If we had minority issues voted on by the majority, we would still not see the end of slavery, women voting, African-Americans voting, or even the existence of non-discrimination laws in the first place.”
Councilman Tom Bieker said he feared that the ordinance will fare badly in an election question on the ballot which is why he suggested sending it back to a committee or task force for further discussion.
“What I’m worried about is if this gets to the polls it will fail miserably … and we’ll take a 20-year step back,” Bieker said.
City Manager Greg Burris said Seifried’s bill will be considered an emergency bill — allowing it to be voted on at the same meeting it is introduced — in order to meet the August 28 deadline for placing it on the November ballot.