Westboro Hometown Passes LGBT Equality

By John Celock

The hometown of anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church passed two ordinances in favor of LGBT equality Tuesday night.

The Topeka, Kan. City Council voted 5-3 to pass ordinances which will create a domestic partnership registry in the city, along with adding gender identity as a protected class for city employment. The passage of both ordinances followed a public hearing where opponents cited religion, the Bible and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as part of their arguments.

While opponents cited religion, supporters noted the need for equality in the city and said it would help the local economy. Councilman Chad Manspeaker (D), the sponsor of both ordinances, said that the ordinances would help the city’s economic development program, a point cited by other Council members.

“This is economic development,” Manspeaker said. “It tells prospective employers that Topeka is an open playing field.”

Manspeaker and other supporters also cited the words of First Lady Michelle Obama during a speech last week in Topeka marking the 60th anniversary of the Board v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. They noted that Obama had told high school seniors that they could continue to fight for equality, noting the historic civil rights ruling that came from a school discrimination lawsuit in Kansas’ capital city.

Opponents centered many of their arguments on religion, citing the Bible, along with the same sex marriage ban contained in the Kansas state constitution. They also called for the city council to put both issues up for a citywide referendum instead of tackling the issue within city government. The referendum issue is similar to a call New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and other Garden State Republicans regarding same sex marriage in their state before a court legalized it.

“The homosexual lifestyle does not follow God’s definition of marriage which is one man and one woman. That is also in the Kansas constitution,” resident Jane Medley told Council members. “God does not program people to be homosexual. That is from Satan.”

Resident Henry Bishop told Council members that he was attending as a “sinner with a confession” noting that the U.S. Constitution gives him the right to freedom of speech and religion. During his first presentation to the Council, he stressed that God was not in favor of homosexuality and that the Council needed to invoke God first.

Bishop said that God had already destroyed a city due to the LGBT population. He did not offer details.

“As a Council you’ve been asked to remove the barrier to this immoral activity,” Bishop said. “Don’t go against God.”

Bishop returned during the discussion on the gender identity ordinance to say that he believed that Council members were not listening to residents of the city on the issue. The domestic partnership registry ordinance was passed before residents spoke on the gender identity legislation.

Bishop used his second set of remarks to cite the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as one of his arguments against the proposed ordinances.

“There has been a lot of talk tonight about rights being violated and I feel my rights have been violated,” Bishop said. “I have not been allowed to vote on this issue, the people of Topeka have not been allowed to vote on this. The city of Topeka is going down a slippery slope.”

The gender identity ordinance was opposed by resident Louis Dalton who said that he believes that transgendered individuals switch between genders on a regular basis. He said he heard this has happened in California, without citing a source. Dalton said that he believes that police would have trouble arresting a transgendered individual with the new ordinance in place.

Manspeaker and other supporters stressed that the gender identity ordinance would provide city employment protections to transgendered residents. Both ordinances were backed by the city’s Human Rights Commission.

Councilman Nathan Schmidt (D) told his colleagues and residents at the meeting that he was against the Bible argument, noting that it was opinion and interpretation.

“It is arrogant to say that because you believe it is the word of the Bible,” he said. “We did not write the Bible.”