Gay-rights proposal is sent to council

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

The lack of a definition for the word “intimidation” prevented a proposed gay-rights ordinance from getting a recommendation from a Toledo city council committee yesterday.

The Law and Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-0 to let council vote on the matter at this afternoon’s meeting.

All four committee members said they support the bill, but Councilman C. Allen McConnell asked the panel not to take a stance on it until the definition of one of the bill’s terms is clarified.

Mr. McConnell pointed out that the bill does not define “intimidation,” a word used in its hate-crimes section. He said that the word could be interpreted broadly, in ways that could restrict free speech.

The sponsor, at-large Councilman Louis Escobar, who is gay, said the bill will follow the definition used in state law, which attaches intimidation to other criminal activity. Council staff said that the definition will be included in a new draft of the bill to go before the full body today.

The vote followed a 2 1/2-hour public hearing, which council members said was more civil than they had expected.

“I am very happy we were able to listen to each other, particularly on an issue that is so hotly debated,” said Councilman Gene Zmuda, the committee’s chairman.

The bill would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment matters and create a hate-crimes law that would include other factors, such as race and religion, as well as orientation.

The panel heard testimony in favor of the ordinance from many of Toledo’s leaders, including police Chief Michael Navarre, fire Chief Michael Bell, and state Rep. Jack Ford (D., Toledo), as well as from gays and lesbians who had faced discrimination. In addition, an array of religious figures testified in favor of the bill, saying that the vote was for human and civil rights, not to promote or defend homosexuality.

“Persecution of gays and lesbians is not a matter of a difference of opinion,” said the Rev. Rebecca Gifford-Mitchell, pastor of Central United Methodist Church. “It is a matter of bigotry and injustice.”

“Nobody should have to pass as something they are not,” said the Rev. Wilhelmina Hein, pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church, which serves a primarily gay and lesbian ministry.

The audience was about 10-1 in favor of the bill, based on requests for supporters of each side to stand up.

A handful of people testified against the bill, citing biblical doctrine they said makes homosexuality a sin.

“We are accepting a life-style that will lead to moral decay,” said Lynn Bland, who said Christians have “claimed Toledo as a holy city.”

The bill is expected to pass, perhaps unanimously. No members of council have expressed opposition.