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Topeka voters reject repeal of anti-bias law

A minister known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims failed in his bid to repeal an anti-discrimination law  in an election Tuesday in Topeka, Kan. One of his granddaughters  fell short in her try to unseat a gay member of the City Council.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Voters on Tuesday upheld an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals in municipal hiring, turning back a repeal movement led by a minister known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims.

One of the minister’s granddaughters, meanwhile, fell far short in her efforts to unseat an openly gay member of the City Council.

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. was seeking to remove from the books a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays in municipal hiring. The repeal measure would also bar Topeka from reinstating such protections for 10 years.

In final, unofficial results, 53 percent opposed the repeal, with 14,285 voting “no,” and 12,795 voting “yes.”

After the vote, Phelps dared the City Council to consider another, broader ordinance and promised to continue his activities.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the vote was encouraging, coming after voters last year amended 13 states’ constitutions to ban gay marriage.

“This really was a question in every gay American’s mind whether Fred Phelps represented the voters of Topeka,” he said.

Phelps’ granddaughter, Jael Phelps, was among three candidates challenging openly gay council member Tiffany Muller in a nonpartisan primary.

Complete results showed Jael Phelps finishing a distant fourth and Muller in second place. That allowed Muller to advance to an April 5 general election. An attorney finished first and also advanced.

'Filthy lifestyle'
Muller, 26, pushed for the anti-discrimination ordinance after she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council last year.

The council approved the ordinance in November. The senior Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church then launched a petition drive against it. Less than two months later, opponents had collected enough signatures to force the city to put the ordinance to a citywide vote.

“That’s my job — to preach this stuff and to strive against sin,” Phelps said Tuesday, describing homosexuality as a “filthy lifestyle.”

Phelps has long been a fierce foe of gay rights. His church has picketed the funerals of AIDS victims for more than a decade. His protest outside the 1998 funeral for Matthew Shepherd, the gay college student beaten to death in Wyoming, led to his portrayal in the play “The Laramie Project.”

Phelps’ targets have also included churches he deems too soft on homosexuality.

At least two voters said Phelps’ support for repealing the ordinance did not affect their decision on the issue.

'Just stupid'
Barry Elfant, 52, said he voted to leave the ordinance in place, but not because of Phelps. “The whole thing is just stupid — it’s 2005,” he said. “I’m ashamed to be a resident of a community still struggling with these issues.”

But even some voters who opposed the ordinance distanced themselves from Phelps.

Retired teacher Jim Paramore said he was “not for Fred Phelps,” explaining that he voted to repeal the ordinance because “there doesn’t need to be special consideration made for homosexuality.”