Council Sidesteps Homophobic Initiative
A voter referendum planned by a conservative group that seeks to overturn Cincinnati’s anti-discrimination law for gay, lesbian and transgendered people won’t go before city council for a vote Wednesday after all.
Equal Rights Not Special Rights collected the 7,000 signatures necessary to place the issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Typically, after the Hamilton County Board of Elections certifies the validity of the signatures, the city must fill a perfunctory role and have its attorneys help draft ballot wording, then have council formally place the measure on the ballot, even if a council majority disagrees with the proposal’s intent.
But city council resisted the effort by Equal Rights Not Special Rights. Council members said their interpretation of Ohio election laws requires council only to become involved in placing voter-led initiatives on the ballot, not referendums that attempt to rescind previous actions by voters. The board of elections must take such an action, council said.
As a result, city council will be able to sidestep the issue tomorrow, during the one meeting held during its summer break.
One way or another, though, the measure still will appear on the ballot when city voters go to the polls this fall.
Equal Rights Not Special Rights actually might be pleased by the switch, because the group was upset over proposed ballot wording offered by the city. The city’s wording required a “yes” vote to overturn the added protections. People seeking the ballot issue, however, prefer it be worded so a “no” vote accomplishes that task.
In March, city council voted 8-1 to extend Cincinnati’s human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation and transgendered status. The action followed a voter-approved repeal in November 2004 of a provision that had prohibited including those groups under the law. Equal Rights Not Special Rights — which is backed by Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values — had pressed for the exclusion in 1993.
As a result, for more than a decade the city’s anti-discrimination law only provided protection from discrimination based on race, gender, age, color, religion, disability status, marital status or ethnicity. The prohibition against including homosexuals and transgendered people was the only one of its kind in the nation.
The exclusion was repealed in 2004 by a 54-46 percent margin. It followed a two-year campaign by repeal supporters that relied mostly on volunteers going door-to-door throughout the city to discuss the issue.
— Kevin Osborne