City Hall attorneys threw a monkey wrench in a night for celebration with the 7-5 passage of an amendment to city government’s anti-discrimination ordinance when they raised questions in the bottom of the ninth inning.

It pointed out how difficult it is to get some things done in government because there’s always a lawyer trying to legislate or make policy.  It’s hard to imagine how the City Council – which is charged with setting policy for City of Memphis – can’t pass a policy to protect every employee from discrimination.

Since this was the third reading and essentially a continuation from 2010, it’s hard to imagine why these legal questions were not asked and answered months and months ago.  Coming as they did with the winning run crossing the goal line, the lawyers appeared more like the temporary refs in the NFL than the best legal minds in City Hall.

The City Council’s attorney had questions about whether a referendum was required (keep in mind this has been an issue before the Council for two years).  The City Attorney said that the policy is the purview of the city administration, but it would have been helpful if he had articulated that position.

The Hollow Taste of Victory

We came away from this spectacle with lasting admiration for the seven aye voters who chose  good policy rather than pandering:  Shea Flinn, Edmund Ford Jr., Janis Fullilove, Lee Harris, Reid Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery and Jim Strickland.  On this morning’s Drake and Zeke program, Councilman Flinn seemed genuinely pained by the circus at Tuesday’s Council meeting.  He made an eloquent case for the rightness of his position and lamented the tendency by some to demonize and vilify anybody that has a different opinion or sexual orientation.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove deserves credit for being on the right side of Christianity, but more to the point, she deserves credit for being on the right side of American democratic traditions when she suggested that government, in this case, city government, should represent the highest ideals and the best values of its people.

Councilman Reid Hedgepeth often is the City Council’s version of E.F. Hutton, so when he talks, we listen.  He was stirring in his explanation of his vote and in tying it to a simple imperative: doing the right thing.  More on his comments later.

Meanwhile, we can always count on Bellevue Baptist Church to defend discrimination with the spurious argument that they are fighting for “Christianity,” as if all Christians actually share their fundamentalism and their anti-intellectualism and all the while ignoring that the majority of LGBT people are Christian.

Scriptural Bait and Switch

It’s incredulous to witness how Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, uses the Bible to bludgeon anyone who disagrees with him and to assert what God thinks and Jesus meant.  There was a time when the Southern Baptist denomination believed in the “priesthood of the believer” but today, the church dispute science, research, and logic, and we bet most of its members believe that the earth is 4,000 years old.

The most amusing part of the spectacle is when Mr. Gaines works so hard to play the victim.  The ludicrous assertion that Christians are being discriminated against in the most Christian nation in human history is a favorite theme devoid of any historical antecedents or serious proof.  As a friend said recently, some of these people’s obsession with what other people do in their own bedrooms is “more than a little pervy.”

That some of these advocates for discrimination have the audacity to assert that Jesus Christ  and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would support their position is nothing short of delusional. We can only imagine what many of the sanctimonious would said about an unmarried man in his early 30’s who spent most of his time living and traveling with 12 other men all over the countryside talking about loving his neighbor.

As for Dr. King, we suspect he would have updated one of his many statements about the cancer of prejudice to include gays, lesbians, and transgendered people: “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at (the LGBT community) in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

Just Do It – Right

In spite of the sideshow, Memphis City Council did what was right.  After all, they are public officials, not religious officials.  We live in a democracy, not a theocracy, no matter how hard some people try to justify one.  While elected officials’ private religious beliefs are important in defining who they are, it should not define the policies of City of Memphis government.  More to the point, the Council’s vote reflected a break from past prejudices and a rejection of a brand of politics that would treat some of our citizens as “less than.”

In the end, you do not protect your rights by denying other people of theirs.  As we mentioned, Councilman Hedgepeth voted in favor of the amendment and offered a comment that summed up a position for many of us:

“I supported the ordinance to prevent discrimination against city employees based upon their sexual identity or preference for one primary reason: it’s the right thing to do.  This is a group that is not a federally protected class, and yet they are only asking for the same protection that everyone else is afforded under the law.

“The right to not be discriminated against in the workplace seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me, especially considering the fact that it wasn’t all that long ago that African-Americans in this city were fighting for the same protections, and decades before that it was women.

Keeping Fairness in Mind

“My conscience told me that this was the right way to vote, despite what a few Old Testament passages might say about homosexuality.  The Old Testament says a lot of other things too, as we all heard in Council today.  I prefer to take my values from the New Testament as well as leaders I admire.  Men like Fred Smith, for example.

“I have long held the view that government in many ways should be run more like a business, and if businesses like FedEx are progressive enough in their views to have anti-discrimination policies which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as gender, race, religion, etc., then I think the government should follow suit and at least provide those same protections.

“In my view the City of Memphis has more pressing matters to focus on, such as our current budget woes and economic development, and we need to stop fighting about whether we should be allowed to openly and legally discriminate against some of our employees.  It is petty and counter-productive.”

All we can say is amen.