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March 9. 2012

Springfield LGBT equality ordinance fails, 3 to 2

Sprinfield, Ohio--City commissioners voted down an expansion to Springfield’s antidiscrimination ordinances on February 28 by a vote of 3-2.

Mayor Warren R. Copeland and commissioner Karen B. Duncan voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to city civil rights ordinances, while Daniel J. Martin, Kevin O’Neill and Assistant Mayor Joyce Chilton voted no.

Last fall, the city commissioners sent the proposed ordinance to the city’s human relations board, which heard public testimony and returned a recommendation against the measure in December.

Testimony ranged from scientific questions of nature vs. nurture and lists of animal species that engage in homosexual activity to right-wing lists of incidents of “religious persecution” caused by the “radical homosexual agenda.”

However, as the debate over the bill went on, the rhetoric slid more and more to the right, likely costing the measure support on the city commission.

“In terms of what happened, it seemed to me early in the process, the supporters were better-organized and were much more present at meetings and so the conversation was pretty much dominated by their presentations,” said Copeland, who is also a professor at Wittenberg University. “As time went on, the opponents, I think led primarily by conservative Christians, got much more organized.”

“From that point on, at meetings, etc., they tended to be in the majority and to play a much larger role in the discussions,” he continued. “I think in terms of the public reality, it was a matter of the opposition getting much more organized.”

The city commissioners have twice expressed their support for state-level anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity. The first time, they voted 4-1 to send a letter to the legislature in support of anti-discrimination legislation, and the second time, they voted 4-1 to endorse Copeland’s testimony at the Statehouse, so he could speak for the city commission and not just himself. Three out of those four people are still on the commission, but only two voted in favor of expanding Springfield’s human rights ordinance.

“People did in fact move, did change their positions,” Copeland said. “Both of the previous times there were four people who supported either the letter or me testifying.”

He declined to say why any specific commissioner may have voted against the measure, but he did note, “Early in this process, two of us stated our support for the ordinance, and we’re the two that remained supportive throughout the process. The other three didn’t take a position until the end.”

“I think one of the things that’s always a problem with these issues at the local level is that each side said at various times that the majority of people supported their position, so there’s no way to really know since we don’t do polling at the local level,” he said, pointing out that elected officials often feel the need to reflect what they feel are their constituents’ positions.

Presently, 17 other Ohio cities include sexual orientation in their equal rights ordinances, covering about a fifth of the state’s population. Twelve of these also include transgender people. They are Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Akron, East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Lakewood, Shaker Heights, Bowling Green and Oxford. The ones with sexual orientation only are Canton, Oberlin, Yellow Springs, Athens and North Olmsted.

No state or federal civil rights law covers either category.

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