PHOENIX — After more than two hours of public discussion, the Mesa City Council voted last month on a non-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing and places of public accommodation based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, veteran’s status, marital status, genetic information and familial status.
“This process hasn’t happened overnight or in a vacuum,” said Mesa Mayor John Giles. “We handled this with careful thought.” In fact, the vote culminated a seven-year process from the time the Mesa Human Relations Committee first recommended the City Council adopt a non-discrimination ordinance.
While the ordinance didn’t happen overnight, an attempt to throw it out may have. On Friday The Center for Arizona Policy said it collected more than 11,000 signatures to call for a referendum on the ordinance.
The Center for Arizona Policy says the ordinance contains broad and vague language that does not provide fair notice of the legal requirements.
As a result, citizens might eventually be accused of violating the ordinance, and fined up to $2,500, for activities such as the following:
- Excluding biological men from a women’s domestic violence shelter.
- Operating a women’s sports league that does not permit biological males as athletes.
- Protecting the safety and privacy of women and girls in facilities like locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers.
- Making private decisions regarding transgender issues in businesses, housing, and facilities.
“Let me again be clear, we are not opposed to equal rights. People are not opposed to living their lives, having happiness and pursuit of anything they want. No one is opposed to that,” said Mesa Pastor Andre Miller.
Pastor Miller was not part of the signature-gathering effort, but he supported it.
Miller believes the ordinance is ambiguous and does not fairly address the concerns held by many people especially as it relates to public accommodation.
“If a man is anatomically a man and he goes into a woman’s bathroom, there are people who have problems with that,” Pastor Miller said.
Angela Hughey of One Community says opponents of non-discrimination laws often raise the fear of incidents in public restrooms. But she says there is no indication there are increases of incidents.
“It’s unlawful for people to be predators in public spaces prior to the ordinance and that remains the same,” Hughey said.
The ordinance has the support of many in Mesa’s business community. Leaders in the LGBTQ community say the ordinance is a thoughtful, measured approach toward achieving civil rights.
“It is really a wonderful example of diverse communities coming together to create an ordinance that ensures everyone will be treated with fairness and everyone will be welcomed in the city of Mesa,” said Michael Soto of Equality Arizona.
In a Facebook post Friday, Mayor Giles, “urged mesa voters to educate themselves about the facts, so they aren’t misguided by fearmongering.”
Mesa voters will have plenty of opportunity to do that. If the signatures are validated, the vote on whether to keep the ordinance or not won’t occur until November 2022.