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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 4, 2005

Topeka voters say no to Article12-like measure

Ballot initiative backed by Fred Phelps fails 53 to 47 percent

Topeka, Kansas--In a March 1 primary with the highest turnout in 16 years, voters rejected a ballot issue that would have barred the city from granting any protections to LGBT people.

The measure was almost identical to Cincinnati�s Article 12, which was repealed by voters last year after being passed by initiative in 1993. Topeka�s version added �gender identity or expression� to Article 12�s wording.

Topeka voters rejected the measure by a margin of 1,500 votes, or six percent.

Both the Topeka initiative and Article 12 were introduced after city councils passed gay equal rights ordinances.

Topeka�s ordinance, passed last year, precludes only the city, not private employers, from job discrimination based on sexual orientation. A 2002 measure added sexual orientation to the city�s hate crime ordinance. Both would have been voided by the initiative.

The job measure originally included private employment, but council members removed that to avoid a threatened repeal drive by Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, whose congregation is made up largely of his extended family.

However, even with the reduced scope of the ordinance, Phelps mobilized his congregation and, with the help of other churches in the city, raised enough signatures in a petition drive to get the blanket protection ban on the ballot.

Phelps is known nationwide for his vitriolic protests outside funerals, including those of Matthew Shepard and President Bill Clinton�s mother, as well as his glee at the September 11 terrorist attacks, which he viewed as a strike at �Fag America.�

Phelps� web sites www.godhatesfags.com and www.godhatesamerica.com are filled with anti-gay, anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Under Kansas law, had the measure passed, city council would not have been able to rescind it for ten years.

The battle between the Phelps clan and the LGBT community in Topeka carried over into the District 9 city council race, in which Phelps� granddaughter Jael Phelps challenged incumbent councilmember Tiffany Muller.

Muller, Kansas� first lesbian or gay elected official, sponsored the job ordinance.

Out of the four candidates running for the seat, Muller came in second with 1,329 votes, just behind lawyer Richard Harmon, who had 1,935 votes. Both will go on to the general election April 5.

Jael Phelps came in dead last, finishing far behind Muller and Harmon with 202 votes, less than one-sixth of Muller�s total.

The younger Phelps claimed a moral victory, arguing that her doomed candidacy brought attention to Muller�s support of the �gay agenda.�

Muller, however, said voters know that when she comes to their door, she is there to talk about the issues that affect them, like jobs, taxes and crime.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force assisted the forces opposing the ballot initiative, which mobilized 180 volunteers.

�Today, the people of Topeka not only rejected discrimination, they chose decency over immorality, truth over despicable lies, and they repudiated the hate-filled beliefs and practices of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church,� said Matt Foreman, executive director of the NGLTF.

The organization pointed to deceptive literature from the �Truth in Love Outreach� campaign supporting the measure, including statements that the measure would ensure that �churches won�t be forced to hire homosexual pastors� and �private and public schools won�t be forced to hire homosexual teachers.�

�The proponents of this measure were despicable liars,� Foreman noted. �They deliberately tried to mislead voters.�

�We know from calling hundreds of voters that there was enormous confusion about what was actually on the ballot--many thought a �yes� vote was a vote to protect gay people, while others truly believed the only purpose of the ordinance was to protect Topeka families,� he continued.

One of the measure�s proponents tried to argue election fraud, noting that a non-scientific online poll by the Topeka Capital-Journal published before the election showed the measure with more support than it received at the polls.

�My primary reason [for voting against the measure] is it�s the right thing to do,� voter Richard Zlotky told the Capital-Journal after voting. �My secondary reason is I don�t want to join the Phelps clan. There are a lot of people who are going to think that way. They are sick and tired of Fred Phelps. He�s given the city of Topeka a nasty reputation for what he does.�

Statewide, voters will be presented with a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage on April 5.

 

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