Today is the deadline for a local conservative group to submit enough signatures to force a public vote on whether Chattanooga city employees' gay or straight unmarried partners should receive health insurance and other benefits.
Mark West of the local PAC Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency and president of the local tea party said he believes he will have at least 6,000 signatures by this afternoon.
"We're doing better than we planned," he said Monday.
If the group has the required number , about 4,500 signatures from registered voters who are city residents, City Council members will be asked to repeal the domestic partner benefit ordinance they approved two weeks ago. If officials won't repeal the ordinance, the Hamilton County Election Commission is required to let the public vote by referendum in the August 2014 primary election.
So far Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, the county administrator of elections, said she has verified nearly 2,000 signatures, almost half of what is needed.
West made two trips on Monday to the Election Commission office, one in the morning with 1,300 signatures and again in the afternoon with 1,000 more. He said he was told his first 2,400 signatures had a rejection rate of 25 percent.
More than a dozen pastors across the city were expected to spread the word of the petitions during Thanksgiving and on Sunday. Others stood at stop signs and red lights asking drivers for their signatures and had designated locations across the city.
Collegedale Detective Kat Cooper, who has led the local group that pushed for the ordinance, said she finds the push-back appalling. She said if the public is asked to vote on the issue, she believes more people would vote in favor of keeping the ordinance.
"I think the Tea Party and West have bit off more than they can chew. They are targeting a very small portion of our citizens," said Cooper, who convinced Colledgedale commissioners to approve domestic partner benefits for Cooper's wife, Krista. "They're not going to win."
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.