Irvine City Council Debates Removal of Gays Clause in Law

Times Staff Writers

The Irvine City Council, faced with a petition by a traditional-values group calling for the removal of a clause on homosexual rights from the city’s human-rights ordinance, was debating late Tuesday night whether to seek further study of the proposed changes.

The council was faced with either eliminating the wording or putting the issue on the citywide ballot after the group, the Irvine Values Coalition, submitted a petition with valid signatures of more than 10% the city’s voters last month.

A third alternative under consideration late Tuesday night was delaying a vote until the city attorney could study the issue.

The council could place the measure--which would remove the words sexual orientation from a city ordinance banning discrimination against a number of groups--on the Nov. 7, 1989, ballot in conjunction with a school district election. Or, it could set the referendum for a vote on June 5, 1990, the next City Council election.

Scott Peotter, president of the coalition, said Tuesday that he favors the June, 1990, election because he does not want the ballot measure to cost the city money. It would cost $35,000 to consolidate it with the school election and $65,000 to hold a special election, according to city officials.


Peotter had only a handful of supporters with him at the council session, saying a show of force was not necessary.

There is no need for further discussion because his group has accomplished its goal of requiring a citywide vote, he said.

“They (council members) have limited choices,” Peotter said. “It’s no longer if, it’s when.”

The proposed ordinance forbade discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status and physical handicaps--provisions relatively non-controversial nowadays.

But the ordinance also forbade discrimination on the basis of “sexual preference,” and a religion-based opposition soon arose, protesting that the ordinance, in effect, endorsed homosexuality as a socially acceptable life style.

By the time the ordinance came before the City Council in July, the Irvine Values Coalition had been organized to fight it. Religious leaders and conservative family groups dominated a 5-hour council hearing on the ordinance, denouncing the measure as protection for perversity. But the City Council voted 4 to 0 to adopt the ordinance, which went into effect in mid-August.

Under the leadership of Peotter, 31, an architect and father of two, the coalition began circulating referendum petitions. Support came from a group of Orange County’s most conservative legislators--Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), and Assemblymen Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) and Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach).

After 6 months of work, the coalition submitted petitions containing about 7,000 signatures, far more than the 5,381 needed to force action by the City Council. City Clerk Nancy C. Lacey announced March 29 that the signatures had been verified and the matter put on Tuesday’s City Council agenda.

Under such circumstances, the council had little discretion: It was mandated by law to either remove the reference to “sexual preference” as the referendum demanded, or place the issue on the city ballot.

According to James Meeker, associate professor of social ecology at UC Irvine, about 100 cities in the United States have adopted laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination--among them Los Angeles, San Francisco and Laguna Beach--and Wisconsin has passed a law.