Less than two months after the Topeka, Kan., city council approved an ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in city hiring, opponents have collected enough signatures to force the city to either rescind the ordinance or put it to a citywide vote. The Shawnee County elections commissioner on Tuesday confirmed that petitions fighting the ordinance contained more than the 3,709 signatures of registered city voters required for certification.
Petitioners filed the signatures for review by the elections office on December 15. Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of Westboro Baptist Church, which spearheaded the petition drive, said the petitions contained 6,333 names. The central Topeka church, led by the infamous Fred Phelps Sr., pickets across the nation, carrying signs with slogans such as "God hates fags." City attorney Brenden Long has said that if the petitions are certified, the city has 20 days to decide whether to rescind the ordinance or put it before voters. A vote would have to come within 90 days. If approved, the measure to rescind the ordinance would also seek to prevent council members from passing a similar one in the future.
The city council voted 5-4 on November 16 to pass the ordinance, which had originally also banned discrimination in housing and public accommodations. Phelps-Roper said the Westboro Baptist Church circulated the petitions to its members and to other churches. "It was our pleasure to put in that time of community service, so now this community can say what they want to say about this matter. Then maybe we can call this good for a while," she said.
Councilwoman Tiffany Muller, who helped sponsor the antidiscrimination ordinance, said she hoped voters would learn more about it before casting their ballots. She said many people who signed the petitions didn't understand what they did and said they were tricked into signing them. County election commissioner Elizabeth Ensley said 64 people asked that their names be removed from the petitions after they were submitted.