COEUR d’ALENE — The Coeur d’Alene City Council approved an anti-discrimination ordinance Tuesday, putting the Lake City alongside four other Idaho cities that have adopted rules to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The City Council passed the ordinance 5 to 1 after taking in four hours of testimony on the polarizing topic that’s been the center of attention since it was proposed last week.
The majority of the council said it felt compelled to protect all of its citizens and that by adopting the ordinance, it would ensure people who otherwise aren’t protected by state or federal laws would be protected inside the city.
“This is a huge victory,” said Tony Stewart, the Human Rights Task Force on Human Relations member who proposed the ordinance to the city, after the vote came in shortly before midnight Tuesday. “I’m absolutely elated this evening because the Coeur d’Alene City Council did what we’ve been doing for 30 years now — standing up against discrimination.”
Stewart accepted congratulations and handshakes from several people after the decision.
“We’re still a model tonight,” he said.
Before the meeting began at 6 p.m., nearly 400 people packed inside the Community Room of the Coeur d’Alene Library. Several people waited outside the library holding signs in support or against the ordinance.
“Coeur d’Alene loves its gay community,” one sign read.
“The unrighteous will not inherit the earth,” read another.
The proposed ordinance is aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) in areas of employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and housing, by preventing people from discriminating against them solely based on “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”
That means, for example, under the new ordinance an employer can’t fire someone solely because of the person’s sexuality. Or refuse them service in a restaurant for the same reason. Proponents of the rule said different races, creeds and colors are protected by laws for that, so the new rule is bridging a gap that hasn’t been covered.
“It’s the sense your community will stand up for you,” said Susan Moss, a lesbian who spoke in favor.
But opponents said the rule will do the opposite of what it’s reportedly supposed to do. It will discriminate against those with religious beliefs, especially in the business world, by forcing them to go against their conscience for the benefit of a select few.
“You are releasing Pandora’s Box,” said Sam Cole, who said the ordinance is going against the “vast majority” of the population by putting “any business owner with a conscience” in an unfair position.
“You are changing the environment,” Cole added.
The majority of the dozens of people who testified opposed the rule, though testimony was divided.
Some who opposed the ordinance said it wasn’t accurate to compare it to protecting different races because homosexuality is a choice, a learned behavior, whereas people of minority races never had an option to choose.
“This is not a racial issue,” said Paul Van Noy, pastor at Candlelight Christian Fellowship, who has led opposition to the ordinance since it was introduced publicly last week. “A person does have a choice about their behavior.”
Josh Swan disputed that. He said he didn’t have a choice of becoming gay, only to accept it once he learned he was.
“It’s not something we’re given a choice about,” he said.
Opponents also said the rule would create a discomforting situation for families with children who have to share a public bathroom with a transgender person, someone who is actually the opposite sex.
Early in the meeting, when 359 people were counted inside the library room, the double doors were opened so people standing outside on the grass could hear testimony. The doors were closed shortly after because protesters arguing about state sodomy laws interfered with the meeting.
The City Council deliberated for about 45 minutes once testimony closed.
Council members Dan Gookin, Mike Kennedy, Ron Edinger, Woody McEvers and Deanna Goodlander voted in support of it.
“Discrimination in any form is wrong,” said Gookin, adding he wished it was an issue the U.S. Congress would address but that people often can vilify homosexuals if they’ve never met or had one as a part of his or her life. “Once you’ve met them you realize, this is a regular person — this is a somebody.”
He said after his vote he expects political push-back for his vote, but he also directed staff during the meeting to look into providing benefits to same sex city employees.
“If you want to fix the world, you start in your own backyard,” he said at one point.
Kennedy said he thought of his older brother, who is homosexual and living in New York, when voting.
“I would not sooner vote against my brother than any of you would vote against your own children,” he said.
Councilman Steve Adams voted against the ordinance, as he did last week at a sub-committee meeting, on grounds that it was a moral issue that shouldn’t even be at the city’s doorstep anyway.
The new rule will be used “as a sword rather than a shield,” he said, and “obliterate” business owners’ rights.
“What’s the rush?” he said about the city moving on the ordinance.
Edinger voted for it, but proposed removing transgender people from its umbrella. The motion died from a lack of a second. Mayor Sandi Bloem suffered a fall on Friday which kept her home Tuesday, though she listened in on the meeting via teleconference.
Boise, Sandpoint, Ketchum and Moscow adopted similar rules already. The proposed rule would make any violation a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The rule does not apply to churches or religious organizations or people who are renting a room in their home or a duplex.
After the vote, people trickled out of library.
“I thought it was a misrepresentation of what the people wanted. I think the decision was made before we even got here,” said Louis Bevans Jr., after the vote. “Nine out of 10 people were against it. How is that a representation of who we are?”