After a successful vote by the City Council here in October to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected from discrimination here, one supporter, David Trippe, thought this Bible Belt city might have turned a page.
“It took a good deal of courage for six members of the City Council to so clearly state that they thought discrimination in any form was unacceptable and they needed to take a stand,” said Mr. Trippe, who served on a city task force that helped draft the policy.
But in the view of gay rights activists, it did not take long for the page to turn back. On Tuesday, after a nearly five-month campaign by Christian conservatives, voters in this southwest Missouri city narrowly approved a measure to repeal the ordinance.
“We were quite elated to win this,” said Calvin Morrow, the executive director of Christians Uniting for Political Action, a group that led the repeal effort. The push succeeded, 51 percent to 49 percent, in a vote that officials said drew the largest turnout here since 2001.
The campaign pitted national gay rights groups against leaders of many of this city’s large churches. Human Rights Campaign, based in Washington, spent more than $27,260 on the “One Springfield” effort against the repeal measure. Its financial support was assisted by a $10,000 check from the Gill Action Fund to finance advertisements and organizational efforts.
But the outside money defending the ordinance motivated local and, to an extent, national efforts to support repeal. More than $37,600 was contributed late in the push by the National Black Robe Regiment, a group that describes itself as a network that helps pastors “to engage in their biblical and historical role to stand boldly for righteousness and transform society through spiritual and cultural engagement.”
“The target was painted on the church,” Mr. Morrow said. “Once they saw that, they began to get involved and message their people.”
Mr. Morrow, who lives in Mansfield, east of here, said that measures intended to protect gays from discrimination create unfair burdens on religious business owners that could lead to costly litigation.
“The issue was pretty simple: We had a poorly written law that exposed people to litigation that could be frivolous, No. 1,” Mr. Morrow said. “Based on a lot of other results, this type of legislation is being used to target Christians.”
A. J. Bockelman, the executive director of Promo, an advocacy group working on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Springfield that also contributed to the “One Springfield” effort, said that despite the loss, he thought the campaign changed the way some people here look at gay people in their community.
SOURCE: ELI YOKLEY
The New York Times