The Chattanooga City Council’s decision to avoid discussion on a same-sex benefits ordinance Tuesday means the issue will now go before the voters in an August referendum.
After months of heated debate, packed public forums and two close city council votes, the ordinance was passed in November. At that point, Chattanooga joined Collegedale and Knoxville as the third city in Tennessee to offer domestic partnership benefits to its city workers.
That distinction didn’t last long.
Opponents from a conservative group known as Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency immediately launched a petition drive to overturn the decision. Within weeks, the drive collected more than 7000 signatures, far beyond the 4,500 signatures required for approval.
The successful drive put the issue back in the hands of City Council. It could choose to repeal the ordinance or it could avoid discussion altogether, forcing a referendum. On Tuesday, it chose the latter option.
“The people will decide this (ordinance) is something they don't want,” ordinance opponent Charlie Wysong told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press after Tuesday’s vote.
Supporters say they’re not worried. “I’m confident the people of Chattanooga can make the right decision,” said Councilman Chris Anderson, the ordinance’s original sponsor.