Hutchinson voters might face dueling gay-rights ordinances

Hutchinson voters may have to decide on contradictory gay-rights ballot measures come November, in part because of an openly gay man’s showing in the Democratic primary for a Kansas House seat.

One of the measures would broaden the rights of people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual, while the other would roll back gay rights by repealing an ordinance approved in June by the Hutchinson City Council that prevents businesses from firing or landlords from evicting people because of their sexual orientation.

Soon after that vote, opponents began gathering signatures to try to force a vote in November to repeal the ordinance.

The Kansas Equality Coalition announced Tuesday that it was starting a petition campaign for a ballot measure that would broaden rights to include all acts of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Jon Powell, head of the Hutchinson chapter of the KEC, said the organization decided to pursue an alternative ballot question because openly gay politician Erich Bishop did well in last week’s Democratic primary against longtime State Rep. Jan Pauls. Unofficial results showed Bishop leading Pauls 417-410, although provisional ballots that will be counted Thursday will determine the outcome of the race.

“Based on how good he did, an openly gay man running for the Kansas Legislature, we feel that Hutchinson does understand the need for protection (from discrimination),” Powell said.

The KEC, which has about 170 Hutchinson members, will need 327 valid signatures to place the question on the ballot.

Robert Noland, of the Kansas Family Policy Council, said opponents of June’s ordinance already have 327 signatures. He expects to turn the petitions in to the county election officer late this week or early next week.

Noland said the more Hutchinson voters learn about the issue, the less appealing it becomes.

“The voters of Hutchinson see this issue as what it truly represents, and they will not go for the proposed changes,” he said.

David Dove, a member of the KEC’s Hutchinson and state board of directors, said he thinks Hutchinson voters would support gays, lesbians and bisexuals who live in the city.

“I think our community is ready for a change, and if they are ready to accept an openly gay man, which is how (Bishop) has run, then I think they are ready for this type of change, too, and I think they will vote for it,” Dove said.