LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman said Tuesday that the gay civil rights ordinances passed in Omaha and Lincoln should go to a vote of the people.
“None of us want to see discrimination in the workplace,” the governor said.
But he said he does not support the ordinances, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Omaha ordinance covers employment and public accommodations. The Lincoln one also includes housing.
Heineman cited an opinion by Attorney General Jon Bruning that concluded the two cities have to amend their city charters to bar discrimination against groups not covered by state law.
City charter amendments require a popular vote.
In commenting on the issue, Heineman referred to arguments made earlier this year in support of allowing cities to raise sales taxes with a vote of the people.
“If we can trust the people to vote on tax increases, surely we can trust the people to vote on one of the most fundamental values that we have in this state,” the governor said.
The Lincoln City Council voted 5-0 last week to approve an anti-discrimination ordinance, based on a legal opinion by Lincoln City Attorney Rod Confer.
Confer concluded that Lincoln did have authority under its charter and state law to enact civil rights protections beyond those enumerated in state law.
The Omaha City Council passed a similar ordinance on a 4-3 vote in March.
The ordinance took effect before Bruning's opinion was released, although after Bruning weighed in, Omaha City Attorney Paul Kratz said state law grants charter cities such as Omaha clear authority to create protected classes that don't already exist under state law.
Bruning's legal opinion does not overturn the council votes but could embolden groups opposed to the law that might seek to have it overturned in court or at the ballot box.
In both cities, the council votes split along party lines, with Democrats voting for the measures and Republicans voting against in Omaha and abstaining in Lincoln. Heineman is a Republican.
Opponents of the Lincoln ordinance immediately started collecting signatures on a referendum petition.
If they can gather 2,500 valid signatures from registered voters by May 29, the measure would be put on hold and submitted to a vote.
Though they had no signature numbers to release, referendum petition organizers said they're encouraged by results thus far.
The Rev. Al Riskowski of the Nebraska Family Council said more than 200 people are gathering signatures. Petitions turned in thus far have at least 20 signatures each.
“People are very motivated. They want the opportunity to vote,” Riskowski said.
State law does not prohibit discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Heineman declined to say whether he would support or oppose adding them to the list of groups protected against discrimination.
“That's certainly something we'd want to review in some detail with the attorney general,” he said.
On a related issue, the governor said he has not changed his views on same-sex marriage. He said he believes that President Barack Obama's support of such unions, announced earlier this month, is “out of sync” with the majority of Americans.
World-Herald staff writer Leslie Reed contributed to this report.
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