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Irvine Petition Forces Action on Gay Clause in Bias Law

Times Staff Writer

A petition that would remove a reference to gays from an Irvine anti-discrimination ordinance has garnered enough signatures to force the change or a city election, City Clerk Nancy C. Lacey said Wednesday.

The election, which may be scheduled for November, would mark the first time in Orange County that voters would cast ballots directly on a gay-rights issue.

Anti-gay forces, a loose-knit group of churchgoers who form the Irvine Values Coalition, took 6 months to collect 7,000 signatures, 5,433 of which were verified by the city clerk. That was 52 more signatures than the minimum needed to force city action on amending the ordinance barring discrimination in employment, housing, public access and education on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, marital status and physical handicaps.

Lacey will present the signatures to the City Council on April 11. The council’s legal options include deleting the words sexual preference from the ordinance, ordering a special election, placing the issue on the November ballot in conjunction with a school board election or waiting until the June, 1990, election. City Atty. Roger Gravel said legal time constraints appear to favor the November date.

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Scott Peotter, coalition leader, predicted election victory, saying: “We’re excited Irvine is going to get the chance to vote on it. This is what we asked the City Council to do last June.”

Peotter said he is “concerned the message that gets sent to all the citizens of Irvine is that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative life style. I don’t think you should discriminate on that basis, but I don’t think you should approve it legislatively, either.”

Mayor Larry Agran, calling the petition “an anti-human rights initiative,” said: “We are witnessing an attempt to create a license to discriminate against one particular class of individuals--in this case gays and lesbians. It just as easily could have been Jews or Asians or women or the handicapped. That’s the real danger in this kind of anti-human rights action.”

The number of signatures “on the one hand disappoints me but on the other hand will provide a clear opportunity for the residents to decide whether they wish to uphold the city’s historical commitment to human rights,” Agran said.

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“My hope, of course, is the citizens of Irvine will reject it as divisive and extremely damaging to the interests of the community.”

James Meeker, an associate professor in UC Irvine’s social ecology program, has studied such ordinances. He said about 100 U.S. cities have adopted ordinances that bar discrimination against gays, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Laguna Beach. Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have passed similar measures.

Unlike age, race and sex discrimination laws, which are fairly uniform under federal and state statutes, the sexual-preference laws vary widely, Meeker said.

Irvine’s law is unique in that it expands coverage of age discrimination to younger as well as older people and requires mediation as an initial remedy to a grievance.

Since the law passed, few grievances and no lawsuits have been filed in Irvine, he said.

Meeker said he was “shocked” by the “visceral reaction” to the ordinance. He disputed opponents’ claims that the law singles out gays for “special protection.”

“Civil rights didn’t give extra rights to blacks,” he said. “It made it so you can’t discriminate on the basis of being black. “

Peotter said gays are the only minority protected by the ordinance “because of a behavior.” Acknowledging that some studies have shown a biological basis for gay behavior, Peotter said: “Even if they’re born that way, it’s the behavior that’s being protected.”

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“We’re all equal and deserve to be equal, and we should not give any group special protection based on its behavior,” he said. “I mean, where do you stop? There are a lot of other, quote, sexual preferences out there, and society agrees most are harmful and several are against the law.”

Peotter said 134 initiative supporters, encouraged by several conservative state and federal legislators, had gathered the signatures at city shopping centers during the last 6 months. A larger group of 1,000 has also worked for the initiative and now will start working to persuade voters.

Staff writer Marcida Dodson contributed to this story.


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