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Human Rights Statutes Debated Anti-Discrimination Laws Proposed For City

Ann Wood is 80 years old, a Christian who’s lived in Spokane for more than 30 years.

“I have known homosexual people nearly my entire life,” she said Thursday night in the City Council chambers.

“They are God’s created people, and they are wonderful people. They should not be discriminated against.”

Wood was one of a dozen people who spoke at a hearing before the Spokane Human Rights Commission. To an audience of about 40, she expressed her opinion on two proposed laws that would prohibit discrimination.

Although the ordinances mention bias on the basis of race, religion and other factors, those who came to the hearing focused on sexual orientation.

But this isn’t a “gay issue,” said Human Rights Commission chairman Vince Lemus in an earlier interview. “These are issues that affect everyone.”

The Human Rights Ordinance would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity and source of income - protections not guaranteed in state and federal laws.

The ordinance also prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, marital status, disability, age and familial status.

The second ordinance would allow people in long-term committed relationships to register as domestic partners. This would be open to both heterosexual and gay couples.

Not everyone agreed with Wood Thursday. Many, like the Rev. Ron Johnson of Indian Trail Community Church, spoke against the proposed laws.

They redefine the meaning of family because they include gays and lesbians, Johnson said. “This is not a civil rights document. This is a moral statement that strikes at the heart of the family.”

Sexual orientation should not be part of civil rights, said the Rev. Eugene Singleton. Being gay isn’t like being a racial minority, he said.

“(The ordinance) is dehumanizing,” he said. “It’s not Scripture. It’s not part of the civil rights act of the United States.”

Although the city of Spokane and other agencies have adopted anti-discrimination laws for their employees, they don’t apply to other businesses in Spokane.

Anti-discrimination laws have been on people’s minds for a while, but it wasn’t until last year that city officials got involved.

John Deen, editor of Stonewall News Northwest - Spokane’s gay newspaper - met with former Mayor Jack Geraghty to talk about an “equal rights for all” proposal.

After meeting with members of the community, Geraghty assigned the Human Rights Commission - a 13-member group made up of local citizens - to develop a plan that would protect people from discrimination. After meeting throughout the summer and fall, the commission came up with the two ordinances.

The Human Rights Ordinance would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

It would not require quotas, Lemus said. It doesn’t legalize gay marriage or gay adoption. “No police force will examine how people are running their businesses.”

To enforce the ordinance, a person must first file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

The commission already deals with discrimination complaints, Lemus said, but the ordinance allows people to take them to a different level.

Usually, the Human Rights Commission tries to work with both parties to address the problem. But if mediation doesn’t work, people would be able to bring their complaints to the city hearing examiner where they would be subject to state statutes.

“Everybody hates discrimination, but … it’s going to take money to enforce this ordinance,” Bill Murphy told the commission Thursday.

Murphy said he was concerned about the cost of applying these laws. Gays and lesbians, he said, are less discriminated against than people of color or even fat and unattractive individuals.

The ordinances are based on those enforced in other cities such as Seattle and Tumwater. If the City Council approves the domestic partnership ordinance, couples can register at the city clerk’s office for $25.

Depending on a company’s policy, some people may be entitled to their partner’s medical benefits.

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Tags: government