Haven’t we been here before?

This week’s Asheville City Council discussion on domestic-partner benefits for city employees is not the first time the issue of homosexuality has caused a heated debate before city leaders.

In 1994, then-Council member Leni Sitnick proposed a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in the hiring of city workers that referenced, among other things, race, gender, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. The ordinance passed in a 4-3 vote, a split that required a second hearing two weeks later. The meeting was held at the Asheville Civic Center over the course of five hours because of the 1,300 or so people who wanted to participate.

The meeting was punctuated by appeals to Council by both those in support of the ordinance, who championed it as a step toward equality, and those who said homosexuality was an affront to their faith and morality.

In the end, City Council reaffirmed its 4-3 vote but with an amended ordinance that removed specific categories like sexual orientation in favor of language that simply stated that occupational qualifications were the only factors that could be considered in hiring city staff.

Here are some quotes pulled from the Asheville Citizen-Times coverage of the May 1994 meetings (Mountain Xpress would not launch its first issue until August of that year) :

“This is not a gay rights ordinance. This is a non-discrimination ordinance. … To discriminate against one is to discriminate against all.” — Asheville Council member Leni Sitnick

“[This is] just the beginning of a slippery slope.” — Rev. Billy Cline, Merrimon Ave. Baptist Church.

“I can’t understand the endorsement of a lifestyle by a city council.” — Rev. Wendell Runion

“This is not a theological or moral debate but a constitutional issue.” — Father Andrew Gentry, Catholic Celtic Church in Christ

“[This is] an extreme, irrational, unnecessary exercise in political correctness.” — Former City Council member Bill Horton.

“This isn’t a moral issue. It is civil rights for all people.” -— Joe Webster, member, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Black isn’t immoral. Gay is definitely immoral.” — Runion, refuting the civil rights connection.

“Discrimination in any form … is an offense to the teachings of Jesus.” — Rev. Maureen Killoran, Unitarian Universalist Church.

Brian Postelle, staff writer

 

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