KOKOMO, Ind. (March 14, 2016) – The Kokomo Common Council passed a controversial measure Monday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s human rights ordinance.
The council passed the ordinance 5-4 last week, after hundreds of residents packed the chamber, but it had to undergo a second reading. Monday's second reading resulted in another 5-4 vote.
Council members and the mayor have been inundated with phone calls and e-mails the past week before the final vote.
The meeting was emotionally charged at times. We’re told one council member even had to file a police report over a threat related to the issue.
By 4:30 on Monday afternoon, there was already a line outside Kokomo City Hall, with those for and against LGBT protections ready to speak.
“I just believe everyone should be able to have equal rights,” said a supporter standing in line.
“I’m a pastor, and I live by what the Holy Bible teaches, and I believe this lifestyle is against the scriptures,” said Victor Pearson.
The council chambers opened at 5:15 p.m. for the 6 p.m. meeting. Only 157 people were allowed inside. Residents pushed and tussled for those spots. People who didn’t get in stood in the atrium.
Council President Robert Hayes laid down the rules, two minutes for each person in line to speak. Both sides certainly did.
“God don’t need an amendment. God don’t need anybody getting him off the hook,” one man passionately exclaimed.
“Both Bruce and I have lost jobs because of our identity, because they find out we were gay,” said another resident, advocating for the protections.
“We the children of God have rights. I’m not a bigot. I hate nobody,” said an area pastor.
“People choose to live the way they choose to live. Your religion doesn’t give you the right to dictate my life,” one woman told the council.
Finally, the council took a vote, 5 to 4, in favor of LGBT protections.
Infighting spilled out into the hallway as Hayes signed the measure to go on to Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.
Hayes called the tone of the rhetoric in the past days troubling.
“Someone brought up my dead mother to evoke her spirits, as if she’s against what I’m doing. That’s hitting below the belt,” he said.
He said state lawmakers could’ve settled everything this session with statewide protection for LGBT residents, following the RFRA controversy. He hopes they’re listening now.
“I hope it sends a message to the state legislature. They should’ve acted. We didn’t have to do this,” Hayes said.
Goodnight signed the proposal Tuesday morning. The city clerk said it'll be published in the paper later this week before officially going on the books.
“There’s a real business case to do this,” Mayor Greg Goodnight said. “There’s the moral issue.”
The city is the latest to join a patchwork of more than a dozen other cities with similar laws, several in the wake of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Goodnight said the measure is a must, given the inaction this year in the General Assembly to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code.
“It left us no other option,” he said. “They didn’t do what they were supposed to do, so we’re taking this on.”
The inaction shifted the battle locally.
Kokomo’s City Council, much like others who have taken this issue on, was divided and feeling pressure to vote between LGBT rights and religious freedom.