The Hutchison City Council voted 3-2 today despite much opposition to pass a measure that protected homosexuals from being discriminated against due their lifestyle choices. City leaders explained to the approximate 200 residents that packed Memorial Hall that the legislation would only apply in employment termination and eviction situations after a much broader law caused great concern.
On Monday night, the city of Salina, just an hour from Hutchison, also voted to pass an anti-discrimination bill. Salina’s mayor, Norm Jennings, voted against the bill along with another city council member, Samantha Angel.
“I don’t think we have a problem in Salina and frankly, I’m not willing to pass an ordinance and put that kind of burden on the city, the county, the churches and our small businesses when there’s not one shred of evidence necessary or needed,” Angel stated. Jennings and Angel were outvoted 3-2.
Both gatherings stirred much public comment, both for and against the ordinance.
“It’s a serious, serious sin, just like adultery or fornication,” stated Francis Slobodnik of Hutchison. Another local resident declared during the public comment period, “I encourage them to try Jesus Christ. He will change their desires.”
“What we’re trying to do is for people to keep their jobs if their employers find out if they’re gay or to stop them from getting evicted if their landlords find out they’re gay,” explained the Executive Director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, Thomas Witt.
Salina resident Carol Reed saw the ordinance in a different light. “I just don’t think we need any specialized groups showing partiality to one of the other,” she said.
Similar ordinances have been passing fairly rapidly across the country, as municipalities such as Oklahoma City, Nashville and South Bend, Indiana have all approved some type of sexual orientation legislation within the past year.
Organizations such as equality coalitions and human relations commissions have frequently been behind the passing of these anti-discrimination bills. In Pennsylvania, approximately a dozen municipalities have passed laws placing homosexuals into a protected class largely due to efforts of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
The impact of such laws has sparked concern from both churches and businesses nationwide, who fear that they may be forced to violate their moral convictions as a result of pro-homosexual legislation being enacted. While some say that the ordinances passed this week in Hutchison and Salina may not have these types of ramifications, the struggle to uphold one’s religious beliefs in business in regard to homosexuality has been a very real challenge for many.
Last year, the owner of Victoria’s Cake Cottage in Des Moines, Iowa faced intense media scrutiny and a potential lawsuit for refusing to sell a wedding cake to two lesbian women. “I’m being attacked because of my beliefs – my convictions to their lifestyle,” Victoria Childress stated regarding the negative attention she was receiving. “I’m a pretty quiet, soft-spoken person, but when I stand up for my convictions against things, I’m very strong when it comes to that.”
Another local business, The Devilish Pig Bakery, spoke against Childress’ decision to turn away the lesbian women. “To have someone say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, because your lifestyle is different from mine, I’m not going to take care of you and help you, and I don’t want your business,’ it’s wrong on so many levels,” said one of the owners to local television station KCCI.
“Business people are afraid to [stand up for their beliefs] because they’re afraid to lose money,” Childress commented.
A bridal shop in New Jersey also came under fire last year for refusing to sell wedding gowns to homosexual women.
The Hutchison, Kansas ordinance now moves to the city attorney to be officially drafted. Once prepared, the measure will be go through a second vote at Hutchison’s next city council meeting on June 5th. The Salina ordinance will also be discussed again during a meeting at city hall next week.