Metro Council votes down controversial 'fairness ordinance'

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POSTED: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 6:40pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 10:41pm

The debate over the controversial "fairness ordinance" is over, for now.

The Metro Council voted against it by an 8-4 margin Wednesday evening in front of another overflow crowd.

The ordinance would have banned discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation based on a number of factors, including, sexual orientation and veteran status. The inclusion of sexual orientation became the focus of a heated discussion over the past few months.

"You know, typically, when a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote are given on matters of facts and truth, the truth has a tendency to prevail, and I think it did tonight," said Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum and opponent of the ordinance.

The vote on Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle's anti-discrimination ordinance ended the way most people expected it would. Supporters were still disappointed.

"How can we honestly say we are a city moving forward until we are a city of equality?" asked Champagne Starr, a supporter of the ordinance. "The discrimination is out there and it is real. I personally have experienced it, just because I'm transgender in this community."

"But I don't think it's to the same level where you have institutionalized Jim Crow laws like you did back in the 60's," Councilman Buddy Amoroso said in explaining his reasoning for voting against the ordinance.

"It does not have to be, for me, any certain level of discrimination," Marcelle countered. "Discrimination is discrimination. Whatever level it's on. it's wrong."

Some council members said they voted against the ordinance not because of religion or intolerance, but because of its wording. Mills agreed it was too vague.

"A vision was told and sold of 'be fair, Baton Rouge,' and unfortunately, the vision and the instrument were nothing alike," he said. "Nobody's opposed to fairness, but the instrument didn't accomplish that in any means or manner."

Three weeks ago, the council held the public comment portion of the debate. Supporters and opponents spoke for three hours about the need for equal right, religious liberty, and the potential for lawsuits.

"I know it wasn't easy," Councilman John Delgado told the audience Wednesday night. "There were those here that judged you, called you names, and snickered behind your back. It was the same kind of bullying that we deplore as children." Delgado, who voted for the ordinance, tried to use critics' arguments about religion to prove the worth of the law.

"Leviticus says we cannot eat creatures from the sea that don't have fins or scales, but we're certainly not going to ban shrimp in Baton Rouge, Louisiana," he stated. "Deuteronomy tells us that, if we have a son who is stubborn and doesn't obey his parents, especially if he gets drunk, that we have to take him out to the elders of the city and have him stoned to death. Anyone want to take that literally? I don't."

"Let's not look at just one part of the scripture," Marcelle added. "The first thing that it tells us is to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself."

Starr said she is behind Delgado's intention to put the issue on the ballot, because she thinks an anti-discrimination policy is what Baton Rouge wants and needs.

"It's coming before six to eight people," at the council level, she mentioned. "Maybe it's time it shouldn't go there. Let's put it on the ballot and let the real citizens of the city decide.

"Not the eight people here. Cause they can't seem to separate their emotions from it, their religious beliefs from it. We have church and state, and this room is full of church right now." 

Delgado plans to push an amendment to the Plan of Government. It would only affect city-parish workers and contractors, not everybody like Marcelle's ordinance would have.

Mills said he expects continued discussion of the issue to be productive, but the council debate did not work.

"Well look, you got a lot of disappointed people here, and you got a community that's once again divided over matters that were once held privately, and weren't drawn into a public spectrum and made political," he stated.

Some council members said they were relieved to have this vote behind them.

"It's been a really hard ordeal for me and for my family, getting stuff in the mail, wires cut on my system at home, you name it," Marcelle claimed. "And this happened to some other colleagues, they just did not want to come forward to tell you about it." 

Shortly after the vote, the website Boycott BTR launched. The anonymous creators of the site say they will, "begin an active campaign to inform the world of the reality that institutionalized and 'scripturally justified' bigotry not only exists in our city but runs our government." The group plans to send letters to businesses considering moving to the city. "We do this not out of malice or hatred," one member said, "but out of sheer necessity to bring pressure to bear on a government that fails to respond to the will of the people."

Council members voting against the ordinance were: Trae Welch, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Scott Wilson, Ronnie Wilson, Joel Boe, Tara Wicker, Ryan Heck, and Amoroso. The council members who supported the ordinance were: Chandler Loupe, Donna Collins-Lewis, Marcelle, and Delgado.

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