Published June 13 2013
Forum editorial: Sobolik is right on rightsFargo Mayor Dennis Walaker has taken a curious and out-of-character position on a city ordinance proposed by City Commissioner Melissa Sobolik that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Unlike a proposed ordinance in Grand Forks, the Fargo measure would apply to all city residents, not just city employees.
Walaker seems reluctant to embrace the idea, saying the city has bigger issues with which to deal. He suggested Sobolik acted because Grand Forks is moving in the direction of extending protections to city employees.
“… But to go out there and solicit it because of some other community – I just don’t think that’s an issue. I really don’t,” the mayor said.
Clearly, the move in Grand Forks is not the reason the commissioner wants Fargo to act. Hers is a sincere effort to extend basic civil rights and protections to all Fargo citizens. Walaker, who has always been a champion of civil rights, is misreading Sobolik’s motivation. She wants protection from evictions and other forms of discrimination – legal protections specific categories of residents do not have now, in part because in the last session of the Legislature some lawmakers seemed to be channeling George Wallace.
The stated reason Walaker has not endorsed Sobolik’s idea is an oranges-and-apples argument. The mayor said Fargo “is as friendly as any community” and added that flood control is the city’s No. 1 priority right now. All true, but one thing has little to do with the other. Surely the mayor and city officials can walk and chew gum at the same time.
It might be Walaker and others have no stomach for tackling a rights issue that is guaranteed to stir an emotional and angry response from some quarters. That’s understandable.
But on this one, Sobolik has the stronger hand. Going back to the days of the late Fargo attorney and civil rights champion Robert Feder (who wrote the state’s first human rights law), Fargo has been a leader in recognizing the responsibility of government to be a catalyst for extending rights to all. That work is never done. Sobolik is on the right side of history, and that’s where her city should be.
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