COTTONWOOD -- If the Cottonwood Council chambers was "packed' for the first reading of a civil unions provision ordinance Dec. 3, the house was "jam-packed' Tuesday for the final reading. People were standing in the aisles or sitting on the floor, waiting to speak.
After an hour and a half of speeches, Ordinance 604 was approved by a 6-1 vote. Councilwoman Karen Pfeifer, who earlier signaled that she would vote support for those who opposed the ordinance, was the lone vote against the code amendment.
Pfeifer said, "We also have the right to respectfully disagree. It doesn't mean anyone is prejudiced."
Unlike the Dec. 3 meeting when the audience was overwhelmingly against the code change, civil unions and homosexuality and often cited biblical scripture, the Tuesday meeting to adopt the code change was overwhelmingly in favor of a civil union registry. Eighteen people spoke in favor of civil unions, while seven spoke against.
Councilmember Terence Pratt set the stage for the public comment by citing Thomas Jefferson in urging people to avoid mixing religion with a state government action:
"Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society."
Mayor Diane Joens, warned the large crowd that it could be an all-night session if every speaker was allowed the usual five minutes. She asked for a show of hands if people would agree to limiting comments to three minutes and the crowd agreed. The only conflict was when one woman distributed stacked up documentation apparently intended to show how wrong same-sex relationships could be, referring to such groups as the North American Man Boy Love Association. She told the councilmember that they were "being used" by these groups.
Supporters of the code repeated said it "is not a religious issue but a civil rights issue."
The mother of a gay son, Susan Hughes said she is an "advocate for equal rights, not special rights."
"My God loves me. I am gay," said Rachel Sappington.
"Any fears of this ordinance are based on ignorance," insisted Greg Luckey. His partner Marc Luckey said his parents discriminated against him and he has not been invited home in 30 years.
On the other hand Charles Barrett says he lives with his partner Randy Ayers and "Our families love us. Not everyone in the LBGT community is so open. That is why recognition is so important."
Joellin Dahlin was in tears at the podium, saying "Discrimination is criminal. The ignorance scares me."
Rose Sperry said she is the one who contacted District 6 State Rep. Bob Thorpe, who sent a letter to the council warning the code change could place Cottonwood in conflict with State Statute.
After the vote, Mayor Joens, who, at the beginning of the public meeting had asked that no one applaud speakers, said that everyone should applaud for giving others respect.