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Lincoln gay rights vote isn’t on November ballot


Lincoln, Neb., voters won’t be asked whether to enact a local gay rights ordinance in the November election.

City officials have not scheduled a vote on the so-called “fairness amendment” that bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

City Councilman Carl Eskridge, who sponsored the ordinance, said he has no particular date in mind to take the proposal to voters. He said it will not appear on the ballot for the November election, and it may not be on the citywide ballot in May 2013.

“November just didn’t feel like a good time to offer it,” Eskridge told the Lincoln Journal Star.

The issue turned political after the city council passed an ordinance in May, 5-2, that expands the city’s protection against discrimination to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Opponents of the ordinance mounted a successful petition drive that requires the council to either let the ordinance die, or submit it for voter approval.

In late May, when it was clear the petition drive would be successful, Mayor Chris Beutler recommended putting the question to a vote. Since then, the Beutler administration and Eskridge have not talked about the issue publicly, but they responded to reporter requests for information this past week, after it became clear the city would likely miss the deadline to get it on the fall ballot.

The issue has drawn statewide attention to Nebraska’s second-largest city. On Aug. 17, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman accused city officials of trying to delay the vote because they are afraid voters would reject the ordinance. Heineman has previously said voters should have the right to decide whether to adopt the proposal.

“It sounds like, ‘We’re going to delay the vote, because we don’t think we can win in November,’ “ Heineman said during a news conference. “You don’t delay the presidential election because the president may or may not win re-election. You ought to put it on the ballot and let the people speak. I don’t know what they’re afraid of.”

Heineman said scheduling decisions for votes should be left to cities, but added: “Generally speaking, we ought to put these on the ballot to coincide with the May or November election. And here’s the other thing: More people are going to turn out to vote in a presidential year. This is the year you ought to do it.”

Eskridge said he was having doubts about putting the city charter amendment on the November ballot before a Lincoln woman told police she was hurt during a hate crime last month.

That case – and the lack of information about it – added even more emotion to the issue, Eskridge said in a telephone interview.

“Now is just not a good time,” he said.

Eskridge said he will consider putting the question on the May ballot, but that it likely would become politically intertwined with races for three council seats. The potential politics of having the issue on that ballot would be a factor in any decision, he said.

“I just don’t know when it will happen,” he said. “It could well be a year or two.”

Language for a ballot issue would have to be on the Monday (Aug. 20) council agenda to meet the Lancaster County election commissioner’s Sept. 4 deadline. The agenda released last week showed nothing relating to providing civil rights protection in Lincoln based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

A charter amendment proposal could be placed on the ballot at a regularly scheduled election, or the council could call for a special election.

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