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Oklahoma City forbids LGBT discrimination in housing

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Following a lengthy, and at times heated, public debate, the Oklahoma City Council narrowly passed an ordinance that will forbid discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the housing sector.

By a 5-4 vote, the council included sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the housing market.

"I just feel this incredible relief and happiness and joy that our kids are going to turn on the TV tonight and think: Oklahoma is standing with you," said Cindy Cason, whose son is gay. She lives in Norman but made the trip to Oklahoma City to address the council. "A government organization that's willing to stand up for the rights of all of the children and all of the families in the community is fantastic."

The council otherwise easily and unanimously updated an ordinance that now protects people from discrimination, regardless of age, familial status, disability, race, color, sex, religion, creed, ancestry or national origin.  It was last updated in 1980, before familial status and disability were recognized as protected classes.

"I just think discrimination is wrong and to a certain extent this has to do with the image of the city," said Mayor Mick Cornett, who voted in favor of the LGBT amendment. "Are we a city that's accepting, a city that's open-minded? I believe we are."

Cornett joined councilmembers Ed Shadid, Pete White, Meg Salyer and John Pettis in support of the LGBT add on, which passed after nearly an hour of public comment and discussion.

"This just made sense to me," said 4th Ward Councilman Pete White, one of the most outspoken supporters. "I don't know that it will have much of an impact. I think the message will go out that you're not allowed to discriminate in housing and people won't do it."

Councilmembers James Greiner, Larry McAtee, David Greenwell and Mark Stonecipher opposed the amendment.

Stonecipher was among the most vocal in opposition, wondering aloud whether LGBT discrimination actually existed in the housing sector and whether there were already laws on the books to address that discrimination.

"Through HUD and the civil rights division of the attorney general's office, there should be complaints that are being filed and there should be empirical evidence of whether we know the answer to that and I don't think we have that," he said.

Councilman White shot back: "All the money that's been spent over the past six or seven years by this AG fighting social change of every kind and you expect this guy to be your champion if you're being discriminated against. I have a hard, hard time putting my faith in that."

Fifth Ward Councilman David Greenwell said after the vote he would have preferred more time to discuss the amendment. He and Stonecipher noted the measure had been a late add-on to the ordinance.

"I want to make sure that we are putting something on the book that doesn't have constitutional implications that may affect the right to contract, freedom of religion, or may affect freedom of speech," said Stonecipher. "I don't feel like we know enough at this time."

Councilman Larry McAtee voted against the amendment because he believes in traditional marriage, calling the LGBT add-on "a step in the wrong direction."

Meanwhile, LGBT leaders and their allies on the council are already looking ahead at their next steps.

"We have a lot more to do," said Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma. "We need to get employment protections and protections in public spaces. We're proud of the council. We're glad they took this step and it's a great day for Oklahoma City."

Councilmembers Ed Shadid and Pete White have expressed interest in recreating a Human Rights Commission, which the council abolished in January 1996.