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Gay Rights Ordinance Is Now Law : City: Measure goes into effect as foes miss deadline for gathering signatures to qualify a ballot initiative.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Diego city ordinance banning discrimination based on individual’s sexual orientation became law Wednesday, after the failure of a movement aimed at blocking the statute via the ballot box.

“For the first time in my life, my basic rights as an American citizen are recognized in this city,” said an exultant Scott Fulkerson, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center, a social service agency. “I feel great. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

San Diego is the last major city in California to pass such gay-rights legislation, following the lead of San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and others. In recent years, many local governments nationwide have passed similar laws, which are aimed at ensuring equal opportunity for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

In conservative San Diego, emotions on the issue ran high during two public hearings earlier this year. There was some fear that the heated debate could presage a campaign as volatile and divisive as the furor surrounding ill-fated efforts to pay tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader.

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Fierce disagreements resulted in the removal of King’s name from a city thoroughfare and the rejection of a plan to place his name on the city convention center.

The gay-rights bill was carefully crafted in an effort to avoid alienating church groups and others. In general, the city statute bars landlords, employers and others from discriminating against homosexuals, although exceptions are granted, notably for religious institutions, very small businesses and the proprietors of small, owner-occupied apartment complexes.

The new law is civil in nature. Under the statute, people who believe they are victims of such bias are allowed to sue and/or seek court injunctions aimed at halting the illegal behavior. The city attorney’s office would also be allowed to take action.

The group opposing the local ordinance, known as the San Diego Citizens for Equal Rights, acknowledged Wednesday that it had fallen far short of its effort to garner signatures from 5% of the city’s registered voters--or 28,293 people. That is the number needed to initiate a citywide referendum on the statute. The group fell about 10,000 votes short, said Barry Jantz, a political consultant who has assisted the anti-ordinance movement.

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The 30-day period for opponents to gather the signatures expired at 5 p.m. Wednesday and the bill became law. The City Council approved the statute April 16.

“The 30 days just didn’t give us enough time to put a long-term effort in place,” said Jantz, who described the anti-ordinance group as a “grass-roots” collection of citizens and church groups.

Gay representatives charged that the drive to block the law was motivated by “ignorance and bigotry,” in the words of Fulkerson of the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center.

Group officials challenged that characterization, contending that their opposition stemmed from a belief that the ordinance was “special interest” legislation that duplicated existing statutes.

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“We definitely don’t agree with the lifestyle,” Jantz said of the gay groups, “but we’re not mean-spirited towards them as individuals.”

Jantz said ordinance opponents now are considering crafting a separate ballot initiative, although the expiration of the 30-day period complicates matters. To place such an initiative on the ballot now, organizers must collect signatures from 10% of the city’s registered voters during a six-month period, said Mikel Haas, deputy director for elections in the city clerk’s office.


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