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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 18, 2006

Equal rights law is off the ballot

Cincinnati ordinance takes effect as its foes stop their campaign

Cincinnati--Opponents of the city�s new LGBT equal rights ordinance have withdrawn their referendum petition and admitted defeat.

The surprise move allows the measure to take effect and stay in effect--an outcome that has taken 13 years to achieve.

The petitioners delivered a letter to city finance director Joe Gray at the end of the day August 16 asking him to withdraw the petition and stop the referendum from going onto the November ballot.

At press time, Gray was expected to honor their wishes, but had not done so officially.

�We won!� said an e-mail sent out by Citizens to Restore Fairness, which had begun a campaign to preserve the ordinance. �This means that as of today, GLBT people are protected from discrimination in the city of Cincinnati for the first time since 1993, marking the third victory for fairness in the city in the past three years.�

The change of course occurred less than two days before the Hamilton County Board of Elections was scheduled to hear CRF�s protest of the petition alleging forgery, errors and alterations by the circulators, improper dating of the forms, and other disqualifying and possibly criminal actions.

The protest affected 1,329 of the 7,646 signatures confirmed as registered voters by the Board of Elections in June--only two more than the minimum needed.

Rejection of three more signatures would have made the petition insufficient. The petitioners said they found 18 that would have failed.

Phil Burress, who chairs the petitioners� campaign committee, Equal Rights Not Special Rights, and its parent Citizens for Community Values of suburban Sharonville, issued a statement saying: �ERNSR�s research confirmed that 18 of the 7,656 signatures submitted were forged by one of the temporary day laborers hired to help circulate the petition, thus taking the total validated signatures under the number required by law.�

In the statement, Burress blames the temporary worker for preventing the people of Cincinnati from voting on the issue, and said he is encouraging the Hamilton County Prosecutor to investigate.

The referendum drive stems from ERNSR�s objection to the ordinance, passed 8-1 by city council in March. It includes sexual orientation and gender identity among protections from discrimination to employment, housing and public accommodations.

In 1993 council passed a nearly identical measure and ERNSR convinced voters to pass Charter Article 12 invalidating it, and forcing council to repeal the part protecting gays and lesbians.

Citizens to Restore Fairness led the initiative that repealed Article 12 in 2004, allowing council to pass the new ordinance.

Since the passage of Article 12, LGBT people have had no protection from discrimination in Cincinnati.

Burress threatens another Article 12

In his statement, Burress continues, �The danger [of this ordinance] lies in the potential for reverse discrimination. If City Council attempts to use this ordinance--as similar ordinances have been used in other cities--to discriminate against organizations such as the Boy Scouts, we will move forward immediately with a campaign to change the city charter again.�

The statement also attempts to conflate the ordinance with gay marriage and singles out transgender citizens for ridicule and insult.

�The fact that a person is confused about his/her gender and can�t decide how to dress doesn�t entitle that person to special protection in matters of employment and housing,� Burress wrote.

�And in 2004 Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to pass a Marriage Protection Amendment to our state�s Constitution. That Amendment restricts all city councils in Ohio from passing certain types of special rights ordinances, such as domestic partnerships, that give the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.�

Complaint to board is still on

�Now we know what their campaign message would have been,� said CRF co-chair Gary Wright of Burress�s statement.

Wright is also skeptical of Burress� claim that a poll taken last week shows that a majority of Cincinnatians, up to 67 percent, would have voted against the ordinance.

�Usually when they poll about 400 people or so, they hit one of our volunteers or someone we know gets polled and tells us,� said Wright. �No one has done that.�

CRF found during its door-to-door canvassing that support for the ordinance is at nearly 80 percent in the least supportive neighborhoods.

Wright believes that ERNSR withdrew the petitions in order to avoid an investigation, and is concerned that the Board of Elections will drop the matter.

�This wasn�t just one person,� said Wright. �The people who managed the process are responsible. The whole thing is about more than 1,300 signatures, not 18.�

�They withdrew because it is in their best interest not to have the questions asked or to have the questions answered,� said Wright.

CRF is not withdrawing its complaint to the Board of Elections, which was set to be heard on August 17.

Board of Elections director John Williams said the board has the authority to keep the investigation alive, but� could not say at press time what the board would do.

�I�m waiting for confirmation of what I read in the Enquirer this morning, at this point,� said Williams.

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