After another lengthy session of public comment and council discussion, the Roeland Park City Council has moved a potential vote on a city anti-discrimination ordinance back to June. It is the second delay in a planned vote by the council.
After hearing nearly a dozen comments from the floor, most supporting the ordinance, the council heard a presentation from Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF describes itself as “a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”
Schowengerdt’s appearance was challenged by councilor Jennifer Gunby who asked why the council was getting legal advice from outside when the city attorney had already advised the council. Council president Marek Gliniecki said two council members had requested the presentation and he had agreed to put it on the agenda. Councilor Becky Fast said it was balancing a much earlier presentation by Equality Kansas, a group advocating for the ordinance. Fast said later that she was not one who requested the ADF presentation.
While the draft ordinance now includes federally protected classes as well, the controversy has revolved around the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the protections against discrimination in employment, housing and business services. Churches and schools are exempt in the current version.
Schowengerdt, son of the new Mission mayor, said ADF regularly advises government on ordinances and litigates for businesses. He said the two classes are not easy to prove objectively. “I think you better think hard about it,” he said. “I think it is unworkable.”
Gunby repeatedly clashed with Schowengerdt over his characterization of problems with the ordinance. At one point, she took strong exception to his assertion that the ordinance would allow biological men to use a women’s bathroom. He cited a Toronto case where he said a man went to a shelter and molested two women. Gunby said she took “great offense” at using “increased molestation” as a way to argue against the ordinance. He also described his involvement in litigation in Washington state. A 2013 interview regarding that case can be found here.
Schowengerdt described himself as “a person who litigates these issues” and said he has a dozen active cases currently. “This can be an expensive process,” he said, suggesting the city is moving to “fix a problem that doesn’t appear to exist.”
Fast said she wanted to see the fiscal impact of the ordinance. “I don’t think there is a lot of trust on this council right now,” she said when it was suggested she do the research on costs.
Councilor Mel Croston suggested putting the ordinance to a resident vote to which Megan England replied, “I don’t think you let a majority decide protections of the minority.”
The council had originally scheduled a vote for April 21, but has now pushed that date back twice after taking public comment at a number of council sessions and a public forum. The full text of the current draft of the ordinance begins on page 123 of the council packet.