Wednesday, May 22, 1996
City may lose Issue 3, but end up winner

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The long arm of the Constitution put Colorado in its place Monday.

By the end of the week, it could straighten out Cincinnati, too.

Like Colorado, Cincinnati has an anti-gay-rights ordinance on the books. Colorado called its law Amendment 2. Cincinnati's is Issue 3.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled against Colorado's amendment. The court, by a 6-to-3 vote, said the law discriminated against gays and was, therefore, unconstitutional.

Cincinnati's Issue 3 says gays can't be protected by the city's human-rights ordinance. Appealed by the Equality Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, it comes before the Supreme Court on Friday.

Given Monday's decision, it's a pretty safe bet Cincinnati's law will eventually be struck down, too.

Cincinnatians who passed Issue 3 will feel cheated. Supporters will feel vindicated. The rest of us may just feel relieved that another thorny image problem has gone away. City council is off the hook. The convention trade can go after the $35 million we allegedly lost as groups pulled out to protest the 1993 vote.

No matter which way you voted or leaned, the Supreme Court's decision should not be cause for high-fives or angry threats. Rather, it's a chance for some quiet reflection.

Hold your applause

As I think about this issue, the numbers haunt me.

In 1993, Cincinnati voters passed Issue 3 by a landside, 62 percent to 38 percent.

Last March, Hamilton County voters passed a sales tax to build two new sports stadiums by almost the same totals, 61 percent to 39 percent.

In both cases, 49 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls. One was a vote of confidence in the community and what pro sports mean to the city's future.

The other vote denied certain members of our community their basic constitutional rights.

Which majority vote reflects the true fabric of our community?

Did the majority vote for Issue 3 on constitutional grounds, or because they object to the existence of gays?

While the numbers match, the signal they send is mixed. That's why we need to step back and reflect.

Everybody belongs

Supreme Court justices see the world differently from, say, a city councilman up for re-election every two years, or a citizen in a voting booth confronted with a simple "yes" or "no" vote on a complex issue.

Justices do not worry about losing convention business. They are not swayed by catchy slogans on TV commercials advocating "Equal Rights Not Special Rights."

They look at the big picture. That's their job. That's why they are appointed for life. It doesn't matter how they feel about people who are gay or burn flags or favor abortions. They rule in favor of the Constitution.

The justices have ruled on the Colorado law. They will likely strike down Issue 3. If and when they do, it is up to us - citizens who voted either way as well as the many more who didn't vote - to search our souls.

Take it as an opportunity to drop the rhetoric. Set aside the winner-loser competition. Reflect on what we have become and what we'd like to be.

Cincinnati likes to pride itself on being an exceptional city. We bust our buttons about the arts, good eats, strong neighborhoods, solid citizens, world-famous industries, sports teams and tree-lined hills overlooking a beautiful river.

Yet, we are always making exceptions.

This is officially the Most Livable City in North America:

Except if you're gay and want to be treated equally.

Except if you're young and foolish and want to mosh in public.

Except if you're black and want to be seen as an individual instead of a stereotype.

Except if you're a woman and want to break through the glass ceiling.

Yes, Cincinnati has what it takes to be an exceptional city. The Supreme Court may remind us later this week what that means. I hope we take the hint and embrace every possibility. Without exception.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.