Our Views: For the city, a setback

The summer battle over fairness for gay and lesbian Baton Rougeans is over, but the winners were the ultimate losers, because there remain profound social and economic costs for failing to act.

A long list of Baton Rouge business and community leaders urged the Metro Council to pass the “fairness ordinance” that would have banned discrimination in East Baton Rouge Parish. Eight of 12 council members opposed it, for a wide variety of specious reasons. We smell politics in the general incoherence of the arguments against the proposal.

What we worry about is that the delay in adopting the fairness ordinance is a sign that Baton Rouge is not yet ready to be competitive in the national — if not international — competition for 21st-century talents.

The statement of many of the city’s most prominent people, including leaders of major businesses, showed the level of concern. “Recent census analysis revealed East Baton Rouge Parish continues to lose young college graduates to cities that value inclusion,” the statement said. More than 200 other cities — “among them the most dynamic and economically growing cities in the country” — are ahead of Baton Rouge in embracing the pursuit of talent.

“We pride ourselves on our hospitality, but a national survey that measures whether a community is open to all people ranks Baton Rouge at the very bottom,” the statement said. “Last year, Baton Rouge received 7 points out of 100 in the Municipal Equality Index. We are better than that.”

For the moment, we are not better than Fayetteville, Arkansas, which in the past few weeks approved a similar initiative. We are falling behind smaller cities which, like Baton Rouge, are proud homes of Southeastern Conference teams. Progress is being made in Jackson, Mississippi, home of a Southwestern Athletic Conference rival.

We agree with the business and community leaders who spoke out, and we are convinced that ultimately new leadership in the city will emerge that embraces inclusion. That is an issue for another day, but in the longer range it is likely that the fairness ordinance or something very much like it will be enacted.

A fairness ordinance is an outward and visible sign of an inward determination to prosper and grow in the new century, one in which economic output is increasingly based on a knowledge economy.

Today, Baton Rouge is growing, but there are underlying frictions that retard our progress. That’s a list that includes needs like better schools, roads and transit, health insurance for the working poor and other traditional factors. The fairness ordinance sought to address one of the nontraditional but increasingly important obstacles to progress.