The Kirksville City Council rejected Monday a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance that would have made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal in employment, housing and public accommodation in Kirksville.
The ordinance, which would have also created a 9-member commission to enforce Kirksville’s human rights laws, was defeated by the council with a 3-2 vote.
Supporters and opponents alike went to Kirksville City Hall to discuss the proposal, filling all seats and leaving some standing in the hallway outside the council chambers. Many expected the ordinance to pass, with three council members standing in its support as recently as Wednesday.
So it was a shock when council member Bob Russell, who originally supported the ordinance, voted against it. Russell said he had a last-minute change of heart.
“I just went back and read through the Old Testament and the New Testament, and back in Revelations—and just things that I could see that might come out of this in Christian belief,” Russell said. “So I stood for what God was telling me.”
Opponents of the ordinance said a city with around 17,000 residents does not need a 9-member commission to enforce human rights laws. Some also said Kirksville does not need to cover sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination laws because people are not currently asked about their sexual orientation when applying for employment and housing.
“Any employer in town has an application process and does not ask any sort of discriminatory questions on their application,” said Patty Fajkus, a Kirksville resident who has worked in human resources for 25 years. “All they’re looking for is whether the person is qualified in terms of their education and experience. So this should really be a non-issue.”
But Aaron Malin, who drafted the ordinance and serves as executive director at Missourians for Equality, said that simply is not the case.
“Of course there are questions being asked,” Malin said. “Ask your gay friends, your lesbian friends, your bisexual friends, your transgender friends if they face discrimination at work, or in public, or in housing. They do. The reason there’s not a quantifiable number is because it’s not illegal.”
Rep. Nate Walker, a Republican from Missouri’s 3rd District which includes Kirksville, came to the meeting in support of the proposed ordinance. He said discrimination of any kind is not acceptable.
“The important thing is that we can’t discriminate against anyone. And that’s the issue,” Walker said. “[The city council] acted the way they did. Now, is this issue over? No.”
Sexual orientation is not currently covered in state or federal anti-discrimination laws. And while Kirksville’s city council will not likely address the issue again in the near future, Malin’s group seeks to use the ballot-initiative process to add non-discrimination to the statewide ballot in 2014. Malin thinks that the United States will see sexual orientation covered in federal law very soon.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity will be protected nationwide sometime in the next five years,” Malin said. “Within their lifetimes, Mr. Detweiler, Mr. Russell and Mr. Edge will feel quite silly about what they did here tonight.”