Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Memphis Sides With Anti-discrimination

Coverage by the news media about the passage of the anti-discrimination resolution by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners suggested to some that yesterday's vote was a Pyrrhic victory.

That's not true.

The shift from an ordinance to resolution was irrelevant in the application and enforcement. They both have the same force of law and the same impact on county policy, according to Shelby County Attorney Brian Kuhn.

And while the language in the resolution may mirror wording in the county personnel policies book, there's a big difference now.

There is the legislative intent, and clearly, the intent of the county commissioners was to apply anti-discrimination to people of different sexual orientations or identities. That means that someone filing a complaint can cite the intent of the board of commissioners in passing the resolution and a judge can rely on that intent to decide a case. Even more, the county attorney can be called as a witness about intent.

It's a clear victory, not the one we had wanted, but one nonetheless. More to the point, it was a tribute to democracy. Board of Commissioners Chair Deidre Malone guided through the controversial shoals with care and dignity to all sides of the debate, and her decision to substitute "thumbs up, thumbs down" as signs of support rather than raucous cheering and clapping was brilliant, bringing the kind of somber deliberation that the issue needed rather than the environment of a pep rally.

More to the point, except for Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, whose bellicose and demagogic rants have now almost destroyed any veneer of patience toward him on the board of commissioners, the comments during the hearing were thoughtful, heartfelt and sincere.

We admire anyone who's willing to stand before a packed room and tell their public officials their personal feelings, so we salute speakers from both sides. In particular, we found the one-minute comments by gay, lesbian and transsexuals to be moving and courageous. The cause, our passion for it, became real in their words and its importance of it became clear to their lives.

Finally, for those of us who cared deeply about this issue and what it says about our city, we want to commend the nine commissioners who made the decision to stand for fair play, equity and equal rights. (Remarkably, we didn't see their names in this morning's Commercial Appeal.) They are Commissioners Mike Ritz, J.W. Gibson, Henri Brooks, James Harvey, Sidney Chism, Joe Ford, Matt Kuhn, Steve Mulroy and Deidre Malone.

The breakdown of the vote was reported in yesterday's blogging by CA reporter Alex Doniach, who now works the digital desk for our daily. It was an outstanding introduction to the power of instant reporting by a professional newsperson, and we look forward to more from her.

1 comment:

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