15-14 vote extends housing, job protection

Paul F. P. Pogue

Councilor Angela Mansfield, one of the three original sponsors of the human rights measure, talks with supporters Tamara Tracy, Mary Byrne and Annette Gross after the vote.

To call the crowd standing-room-only would be an understatement. At Monday night's historic special session of the City-County Council, the crowd packed into the aisles, the doorways, out the hall and down the stairs. Supporters and opponents alike gathered for the 40-minute session where two of the most controversial measures in recent memory were passed in tight votes.

One of them was the anti-discrimination measure, Prop. 622, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes specifically protected from discrimination in the workplace and housing market, with the exception of religious institutions and some nonprofits. It passed 15-14 after several councilors changed their positions in the wake of heavy campaigning from both sides of the issue.

Council President Steve Talley was one of those who changed their votes. "I always knew there was discrimination, but did not know it rose to the level where it ought to be written into law," he told television reporters.

Opponents were quick to decry the measure as excessive government intrusion and endorsement of homosexuality.

"Why would you want to start a business in Marion County?" council member Ginny Cain asked. "You're going to have extra restrictions added onto your business."

Two of the organizations leading opposition to the measure, the American Family Association of Indiana and the Indiana Family Institute, released statements alleging that the measure would eventually lead to the legalization of gay marriage.

"When 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' are placed within the law, they feel that it will move them a step forward towards societal acceptance of their lifestyle, even equivalent to the marital relationship of a husband and a wife," said the Indiana Family Institute in a statement on their Web site. "Government codification of sexual practices within the law will further entrench homosexuals into the lifestyle."

Perhaps the strongest public words came from council member Scott Schneider, who proposed a one-year moratorium on re-introducing failed legislation before the council.

"I feel that what we did tonight was a disgrace to the public and I feel ashamed," he said, before citing arm-twisting, vote-trading and back-room deals as the culprits. "There were two proposals before us that were duly defeated."

After the vote, Angela Mansfield, one of the original three sponsors of the proposition, met with several enthusiastic supporters, including Mary Byrne and Annette Gross.

"If you'd seen all the hurtful, hateful e-mails people have been sending, you'd know how much discrimination is out there," Mansfield said.

"This is about family," Gross, a member of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told Mansfield. "All of my family, they left. Why would you want to stay in a place that doesn't want you? Maybe people will feel better now. Maybe they'll come back."

"I hope so," Mansfield replied. "Maybe so, but I hope they'll stop leaving."

"It's fear," Gross said. "People are afraid of anything they don't know. They're afraid of change, afraid of what they don't understand."

After the hectic 40 minutes, perhaps Byrne summed up the feelings of everyone, opponent and supporter alike: "Whew. Now I can breathe."

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