Petitions Approved Seeking to Overturn
Ordinances in Hutchinson and Salina
Ordinances granting new protections based on sexual behavior in the cities of Hutchinson and Salina, Kansas will likely be placed before voters on the November ballot.
In June, the Hutchinson City Commission approved an ordinance granting protections based on sexual orientation. The ordinance represented a dramatic step for Hutchinson, but was less than LGBT activists initially sought. The ordinance poses a threat to landlords and employers in Hutchinson who could be subject to legal action should they evict a tenant or fire an employee who happens to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.
The ordinance establishes an environment where someone who is legitimately evicted or fired could later claim discrimination based on sexual orientation. Churches and religious institutions were not exempt from the new ordinance. Furthermore, business owners and landlords who have deeply held religious beliefs about homosexual lifestyles could be targeted for legal action in cases where eviction or employment termination occurred for perfectly legitimate reasons.
Just moments before the City Commission vote on the ordinance in June, there was talk among Commission members regarding further expansion of the ordinance. It was at that time that KFPC and Hutchinson residents realized that the ordinance was just the initial step in an ongoing agenda.
In light of its progressive nature, Awaken Hutchinson and KFPC worked throughout the summer to collect 1,364 signatures on a petition seeking to repeal the ordinance. According to Kansas law, 327 valid signatures were required to certify the petition. The petition containing in excess of 1,000 extra signatures was turned in to the Hutchinson City Clerk on August 16th. On August 21st, The Reno County Election Clerk certified that enough valid signatures were collected to move the issue forward. See the Hutchinson News story HERE.
The Kansas Equality Coalition, a statewide gay rights group, also submitted a petition seeking to repeal the new ordinance but which also proposed expanded protections. The competing petition was approved by the Election Clerk as well.
Kansas law states that once a petition is certified, the City Commission has 20 days to either approve the action requested in the petition or place the matter before the voters.
The Hutchinson City Commission is set to consider action on both petitions at their September 4th meeting.
In May, the Salina City Commission gave final approval to a sweeping new ordinance granting new protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodation. The ordinance poses a threat to churches, religious institutions, individuals, business owners, landlords and families in Salina.
The main concern with the ordinance in Salina relates to its impact on religious liberties. There was no exemption for churches or religious institutions unless they were closed to the public. The City provided material that stated that churches open to the public could not decline to rent space to a gay couple for a party under the new ordinance (question 1Q on page3 HERE). Likewise, business owners and landlords with deeply held religious beliefs could be subject to legal action should a legitimate business decision adversely affect an LGBT individual.
Secondary concerns relate to the public accommodation portion of the ordinance and the ability to continue segregating bathrooms based on gender. Under the ordinance, men who choose to live as women (transgender) could not be prevented from using the women's restroom. The city provided guidance that stipulated the provision of separate unisex bathrooms was not adequate. Read the document provided by the City of Salina (question 4Q on page 3 HERE).
Finally, in its report to the City Commission, city staff noted that there was no good information to define a problem in Salina and furthermore it was difficult to determine what negative harms might result from enactment (page 5 section E HERE.
Throughout the summer, Awaken Salina and KFPC worked to collect 2,446 signatures seeking the repeal of this ordinance. Kansas law required that 1,297 registered voters sign the petition. On Tuesday, August 21st, the petition was delivered to the City Clerk. Late in the day on Thursday August 23rd, the Saline County Election Commissioner confirmed that the required number of signatures was present and that the petition was certified to move forward. See the Salina Journal story HERE.
Within 20 days, the matter will come before the City Commission which will have the opportunity to repeal the ordinance or place it before the voters in November.
City Commissions to Deliberate
The approval of the two petitions is a big step in the process to repeal both ordinances. Awaken Hutchinson, Awaken Salina and KFPC await the decision by both City Commissions in the coming weeks. In the meantime, planning has started in anticipation that voters will have the opportunity to vote on these measures in both cities in November.