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News covering policy and issues related to city and county governments in the Ozarks.

Local Churches Presented Petition to Repeal SOGI Ordinance

City of Springfield CityView

Citizens seeking to put a controversial Springfield ordinance to a public vote are continuing circulation of a petition, a week after the city council amended its non-discrimination law. KSMU’s Bailey Wiles has the latest.

Shortly after Springfield City Council approved the stronger of two proposed amendments enhancing protections for LGBT persons, Dicky Hardy set out to repeal it.

“We gave the city council a much better alternative, the Stevens-Fishel alternative, but the council chose to go this direction knowing the political implications were that we would get the petition signatures and seek to overturn it,” Hardy said.

Hardy was a member of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Task Force created after council tabled the nondiscrimination bill two years ago. On October 13, council vote 6-3 to expand protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. No vote was taken on the substitute bill, which would have added the protections in the case of housing only, and requested an additional study of discrimination in the case of employment and public accommodations.

“Frankly, those six council members slandered the people of Springfield. They basically said, we can’t find any evidence of it, but you must be so bad that we have to make some law to protect what we can’t find evidence of occurring.”

Since that decision, Hardy and others have been working to gather signatures and to encourage churches to do the same. He’s been working with the likes of James River Church, First and Second Baptist churches, and Central Assembly, among others.

“There would be people in the churches that would be so diametrically opposed to making criminals out of people because of their personal beliefs, that’s what this does. Churches across the city are taking a stand. They’re taking it upon themselves to get the petitions and I’m serving as the point person to get them all collected.”

If a referendum petition receives enough valid signatures, the approved ordinance in question will go before voters, and could potentially overturn council’s decision. Petition officials have 30 days from the passage of the ordinance to receive and submit enough signatures – that’s 10 percent of the votes in the most recent municipal election, or 1,144.

Rev. Emily Bowen-Marler, the associate minister at Brentwood Christian Church, is saddened by the fact that religious people are collecting signatures to repeal this ordinance.

“I would hope that people who are apt to sign the petition will think what is it truly that their Christian faith is calling them to; is it calling to be discriminating against a minority of people, or is it calling them to reach out to people in love?”

Bowen-Marler adds that despite views to the contrary, she believes there is evidence to support discrimination against the local LGBT community.

“I know people who have been fired from their jobs because they’re gay in Springfield, Missouri. I know that people want to say that there isn’t any evidence of discrimination, but honestly, people don’t want to come forward because of the repercussions that they’ve already experienced because of who they are.”

But Hardy contends that the ordinance doesn’t just impact the religious community, but would hurt businesses as well.

“The small business owner, the guy who’s got his little mom and pop shop out there with two employees is going to face litigation. The opposition wants to downplay that, but fact is the law is what the law is and they’re set up to be sued.”

Signatures need to be submitted to the city by November 12th. If the signatures are submitted but insufficient, opponents would have a 10-day grace period in order to come up with additional ones.

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