Listen: St. Paul council passes gay rights ordinance

MPR’s Bill Wareham reports on St. Paul City Council passage of ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, education, and public services. Wareham interviews advocates and opponents of the measure.

Gays and lesbians in St. Paul had gone without legal protection from discrimination since 1978, when voters repealed homosexual rights legislation that had been in effect for four years.


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BILL WAREHAM: Gays and lesbians in Saint Paul have gone without legal protection from discrimination since 1978, when voters repealed homosexual rights legislation that had been in effect for four years. And though the new measure easily won the approval of a council majority, the specter of that defeat was raised in Roger Goswitz's lone dissent.

ROGER GOSWITZ: I don't believe that there needs to be a special privilege for any group. We're all protected by the Constitution. The people in my ward are definitely opposed to this ordinance. And I'm therefore voting against it.

BILL WAREHAM: Gay rights opponents hope Goswitz has accurately gauged public opinion. The group Citizens Alert says it will collect the 5,200 signatures needed to put the measure on a general election ballot, but may not do it this year. Citizens Alert spokesperson Bob Fletcher says the group is leaning toward a 1991 referendum on the issue.

BOB FLETCHER: The greatest likelihood is that it will be in '91. There's a couple of factors. The time that remains to place it on the ballot is getting very, very short. And in addition to that, we think it's important that the council members be accountable and responsive. And one of the ways to make them accountable and responsive on this issue is to place it on the ballot the same time they're up for election.

BILL WAREHAM: It's uncertain how the new human rights provision will do if put before voters. The 1978 gay rights provision failed at the polls, 63% to 37%. But 10 years later, a proposed charter amendment related to the gay rights issue lost by a narrower margin, 56% to 44%. Deb Schlick, co-chair of the pro-gay rights group Campaign 90, says opposition seems to be withering.

DEBORAH SCHLICK: I think it's apparent the opposition is more poorly organized. They've said and admitted they cannot do it this year. They can't pull it off. I think it's more a shift of public sentiment. Public understanding.

We'll have to be organized, and we'll have to fight hard. And what we'll have to do is help further an agenda of community education. And I think we can do that.

BILL WAREHAM: Citizens Alert says it will announce its plans for fighting the gay rights ordinance July 10. The ordinance itself is scheduled to go into effect July 26. I'm Bill Wareham reporting.

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