After months of discussion, the Roeland Park City Council Monday voted down an anti-discrimination ordinance originally designed to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and services.
The council split 4-3 against adopting the ordinance with Councilor Becky Fast absent from the meeting. The ordinance needed five votes to pass. Mayor Joel Marquardt said he would have been a “yes” vote to pass the ordinance if it had received four votes from the council. That makes Councilor Fast’s position on the ordinance critical to its prospects if it is re-introduced.
Voting against the ordinance were councilors Sheri McNeil, Michael Rhoades, Mel Croston and Marek Gliniecki. Jennifer Gunby, Megan England and Teresa Kelly voted for passage.
Gliniecki said his negative vote came down to following what he believed was the direction of his Catholic faith. In an emotional statement, Gliniecki quoted into the record excerpts from a church document related to legislative proposals on the “non-discrimination of homosexual persons.” That document read in part that “the intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”
Religion has been a factor in the debate about the ordinance. At several public forums, at least one Catholic layperson had objected to the ordinance, citing concerns of religious freedom. The final version of the ordinance granted exemptions for religious and fraternal organizations. In recent weeks, pastors from the United Church of Christ had appeared to speak in favor of passage. Monday a petition signed by 25 pastors backing the ordinance was presented. The online petition was originated and first signed by Aaron Roberts of Colonial Church in Prairie Village.
Croston said she and Fast had been threatened. She said her house had been egged. The people doing this “are not Roeland Park residents,” she said. McNeil said she was representing the residents of Roeland Park in her vote. “This has been just heartbreaking,” she said. It was at McNeil’s suggestion that protection for military veterans was added to the ordinance.
Rhoades said he made his decision based on what he felt was best for the city. He won a special election to fill a council seat this spring after the ordinance had been introduced. His opponent backed the ordinance and was endorsed by Equality Kansas, the group that helped craft the original version.
Gunby, England and Kelly all made impassioned pleas for passage. “I want to insure that all residents of Roeland Park are free from discrimination,” Gunby said.
Michael Poppa, a Roeland Park resident and local chair for Equality Kansas, said he was “shocked and disappointed” after the vote. He said the response from Roeland Park residents had been positive with the exception of a small and vocal minority. Sandra Meade of Equality Kansas said the group would continue to approach cities in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties to pass anti-discrimination ordinances.