LINCOLN, Neb. — The Lincoln, Neb., city council moved forward with its efforts to pass an expansion of the city’s civil rights ordinance to cover gay and transgender people, despite an opinion by the state’s Attorney General Jon Bruning, that the council does not have that power.
In a six-and-a-half hour marathon hearing Monday night, the city council heard from more than 70 people expressing their opinions, for and against, the proposed ordinance that would protect gay and transgender citizens from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Bruning, in a statement released Friday in advance of tonight’s hearing, said that Omaha’s sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination protections are improper, and that state law does not permit for cities to expand protections beyond what the state already covers.
Lincoln’s Mayor, Chris Beutler said Bruning’s opinion has no binding effect on cities and that the Lincoln city attorney has a different opinion from the attorney general. Attorneys for both Omaha and Lincoln are in agreement that “there are lots of things about this opinion that are not correct,” Beutler said of the attorney general’s opinion
Bruning said cities cannot broaden their anti-discrimination laws without asking voters to expand the city charter, or getting the Legislature to expand the state’s civil rights laws. Now, anti-discrimination protection for gender identity or sexual orientation is not a part of either the Lincoln city charter or state law, reported the Lincoln Journal Star.
The Omaha City Council recently added similar anti-discrimination protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to its civil rights ordinance. The statute used by the attorney general to argue that cities don’t have the authority to go beyond state law actually includes words allowing cities to pass ordinances that are more comprehensive than state law, Lincoln City Attorney Rod Confer argued.
“This is an issue of basic fairness,” Beutler said. “No one should live in fear of losing a job or housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lincoln is the capital city of the state whose motto is ‘Equality before the law.’ It’s time to make those words ring true.”
Opponents said the ordinance would impinge upon their religious freedoms by requiring them to accept behavior they consider immoral.
“You just create a very difficult environment in the state if you start allowing various cities to have new protected classes,” said the Rev. Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council.
A vote by the Lincoln city council on the proposed ordinance is expected on May 14.