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Springfield, Missouri, Voters Repeal LGBT Rights Ordinance

After the city council approved an ordinance in October that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, voters on Tuesday approved a referendum to repeal it.

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Voters have narrowly repealed an LGBT-rights law in Springfield, Missouri, according to ballot results Tuesday night.

With all precincts reporting, the Greene County Clerk shows Question 1 passing 51.43% to 48.57%.

"We are very disappointed that we didn’t have the exact outcome that we wanted, but we are encouraged that the vote was so very close," Crystal Clinkenbeard, a spokeswoman for the LGBT-rights campaign No Repeal, told BuzzFeed News.

The vote comes after a fierce clash between LGBT advocates and religious conservatives, who invoked campaign themes of Christian-owned businesses forced to sell products for gay weddings and cross-dressing predators lurking in women's restrooms.

The defeat for LGBT-rights advocates is also a reverse of momentum. Last week, LGBT organizations around the U.S. successfully pressed legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas to dial back religious freedom laws that many worried allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Springfield's ballot measure concerned an ordinance — passed on a 6-3 vote by the city council in October — that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. The new law extended nondiscrimination rules already on the books based on race, creed, sex, and disability.

In many ways, the debate in Springfield echoed the uproar last week in Midwestern and Southern states over religious liberty laws. The No Repeal campaign argued nondiscrimination laws for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people were fundamental civil rights, while critics of the law blasted LGBT protections as unnecessary burdens that would infringe on Christian faith.

The Yes on Question 1 campaign complained that under the nondiscrimination law, "as a business owner you have no right to refuse service based on your conscience and personal convictions."

The campaign also warned that LGBT rights gave sexual predators a free pass in public facilities.

"With the addition of gender identity, it gives anyone claiming to be transgender the right to choose which public locker room, dressing room, bathroom, or other previously gender specific area they wish to use," the campaign said. "This new, special privilege opens a door for sexual predators to claim being transgender in order to access these private areas."

The group published a video of religious leaders making the restroom case on YouTube.

Those arguments ultimately trumped the campaign attempting to uphold the law.

"The bathrooms are difficult because they hit people on such an emotional level," Clinkenbeard said.

The repeal campaign had organized in dozens of churches this past weekend, but she said she was proud that many Christian leaders publicly supported the LGBT campaign too.

"That’s a tremendous step forward for Springfield," she said.

Explaining why he opposed the LGBT nondiscrimination law, Councilman Craig Fishel said at a council meeting in October that he had been approached by every major church in his district.

"I feel I was elected to represent the people of Zone 4," he said. "I found no hard evidence there is discrimination.”

But Councilman Doug Burlison argued at the same meeting that it was the feedback he heard that drove him to support it.

"The nature of comments I receive ... there is a portion of them that have been very uncivil and makes this process distasteful," Burlison said. "The amount of opposition to this bill — to me and a lot of people I represent — is a clear indication of the need for this bill."

The Yes on Question 1 campaign did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Dominic Holden at dominic.holden@buzzfeed.com.

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