Council adds sexual orientation to city's nondiscrimination policy
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010
6/17/10 at 9:51 PM
Related story: Equality Center crowd jubilant as council votes on nondiscrimination policy.
The City Council voted 6-3 on Thursday to add sexual orientation to the city’s personnel nondiscrimination policy.
The action adds sexual orientation to the list of protected classes, which now are race, color, sex, religion, political beliefs, national origin, age, ancestry and disability.
Councilor G.T. Bynum, co-sponsor of the measure, said that for him, the issue is one of personal privacy.
Also in support of the measure were Councilors Maria Barnes, who co-sponsored the measure, and Chris Trail, Bill Christiansen, Roscoe Turner and Jack Henderson.
Bynum said he has gotten a lot of press on the issue “because I guess they find it interesting that a conservative thinks we ought to stay out of everyone’s bedroom.”
Councilor John Eagleton said he agrees with Bynum that government should “stay out your bedroom, but your bedroom has no business in government.”
Eagleton said he opposes any measure that would provide grounds for additional lawsuits against the city.
Joining Eagleton in opposition were Councilors Rick Westcott and Jim Mautino.
Westcott said he could not support the change because the courts don’t recognize sexual orientation as a protected class.
Several people spoke in favor of the measure, including representatives of the League of Women Voters, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Toby Jenkins, president of Oklahomans for Equality, said local lesbians and gay men have been working for 35 years to address this issue.
He said he spoke to 41 city employees who are gay, some of whom have felt they have been harassed, embarrassed and passed over for promotions because of their sexual orientation.
David Bernstien pleaded with the council not to “pour any more salt on an open wound. There are enough wounds in the gay community on how we have dealt with them.”
A few people spoke against the measure.
“There is no justice in special laws for special people,” said Betty Benbow. “There should be no policy. We’re all Americans and all children of God.”
The city’s Civil Service Commission already had approved adding sexual orientation to the city’s protected classes.
Personnel Director Erica Felix-Warwick has told councilors that a legal review has determined that this action would not obligate the city to provide health insurance benefits for same-sex partners of city employees.