The Oklahoma City Council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to add sexual orientation to the city's employment nondiscrimination policy after a debate that lasted more than half of the council meeting.
Gay and bisexual Oklahoma City employees and job applicants now have explicit protection against discrimination in city offices. They already had de facto protection before the vote, city officials said.
The measure was sponsored by Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid. Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee and Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly cast the dissenting votes.
About 100 people packed the council chamber well in advance of the 8:30 a.m. meeting.
Usually only one or two dozen people come to watch or speak at the meetings, and those who come typically are concerned about an item on the agenda that affects their property.
The number of speakers for and against the measure was about even, though it seemed the majority of the people in attendance were against the measure. Some speakers were applauded when they finished their comments, and the applause was loudest and longest for those who spoke against it.
In general, speakers against the measure cited religion and opposition to adding a class not protected by federal or state law to the city's policy as their reasons.
Speakers in favor of the measure generally spoke about a desire for fairness and equality.
Some of the speakers came from Oklahoma City's suburbs.
The comments made by council members and those who signed up to speak reflected the emotional and polarizing nature of the debate. Shadid likened allowing discrimination against gay people to Adolf Hitler targeting groups for hate in Germany. Pastor Tom Vineyard, of Windsor Hills Baptist Church, cited a New York judge in saying more than half of murders in large cities are committed by gay people.
Vineyard received the longest standing ovation of the day after his remarks.
Council weighs in
Kelly said black Americans like him know the most about discrimination, contending the city had no need to add the wording to its policy because there have been few claims of discrimination in city offices based on sexual orientation.
City staff has said only two such claims have been made in the last 12 years, and only one was substantiated.
McAtee agreed with Kelly, saying there's no need for the policy in the city because there isn't a track record of such discrimination.
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell expressed his reluctant support for the measure, saying he didn't think a vote was needed because of the relative lack of discrimination claims in the city, but added that he didn't want to face criticism from people who didn't understand his views if he voted against it.
Shadid cited companies like Chesapeake and Devon that include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, saying his instinct as a businessman is to provide equality and protection.
Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said he thinks gay people face as much or more discrimination than any group in the U.S. today and that they deserve protection.
Mayor Mick Cornett, Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer and Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan did not speak on the matter at length.