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Conservative capital of Kansas passes pro-gay ordinance

Conservative capital of Kansas passes pro-gay ordinance

Kansas is as conservative as any state, but its capital city has taken a small step toward protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. The Topeka city council last week narrowly approved an ordinance prohibiting bias in city hiring or employment based on sexual orientation. Many activists were disappointed, hoping the council would enact a broader ordinance against discrimination in housing, lending, and private employment. Yet a few took comfort in what they perceived as some progress. Part of it was timing. The vote on November 16 came two weeks after President Bush carried Kansas with 62% of the vote and during an election in which 11 states approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. "We've just come out of an election that was very bruising to the gay community," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "This small step by the Topeka city council just shows that we are going to keep making progress." But opponents of any gay rights ordinance saw approval of only a small change--by a 5-4 council vote--as a significant victory. Still, some worry that the new ordinance is a step toward governmental acceptance of homosexuality. "I wonder if it's just not the camel's nose under the tent," said Francis Slobodnik, manager of the Topeka-area office of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, an organization for Roman Catholics. Topeka is actually one of many cities in states that went for Bush that have approved local gay rights ordinances. Others include Salt Lake City; Baton Rouge, La.; and Louisville, Ky. And despite losing the 11 marriage votes, gay rights groups found a few heartening signs in the November 2 election results. In Massachusetts all incumbent legislators who supported equal treatment for same-sex couples won reelection. In Cincinnati, voters repealed the nation's only city ban on laws supporting gay rights. Idaho and North Carolina voters elected their first openly gay legislators, and an openly gay Hispanic woman, Lupe Valdez, was elected county sheriff in Dallas. Topeka became only the third local Kansas government with a policy against discrimination over sexual orientation, according to Foreman. Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, prohibits bias in housing and private employment. Shawnee County, where Topeka is located, bans discrimination in county employment.

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