After hours of speeches from backers and opponents of a fairness ordinance aimed at prohibiting discrimination against gay people, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council vexed observers by failing to take a vote on the proposal.

We favor the ordinance, and we’re glad that the council allowed such lengthy testimony from the standing room-only crowd. That kind of debate, though heated at times, is what democracy is supposed to be about.

But the odd conclusion of the proceeding, in which the allotted time for the meeting ran out before the council could take a vote, now leaves the ordinance in limbo. Supporters of the measure clearly don’t have the votes to pass it, although the proposed ordinance could be taken up at another council meeting.

A backer of the ordinance, Metro Councilman John Delgado, now says the issue should be put to a public referendum — an admission that in the absence of clear leadership from the officials who were elected to guide Baton Rouge, voters might now have to resolve this issue on their own.

Referendums have obvious appeal, and we acknowledge the right of the people to popularly express their will. Yet we have always been hesitant to favor legislation by referendum.

Lawmaking, even at the modest level of the Metro Council, requires specificity and attention to detail. That is often lost in a referendum. That’s why we elect lawmakers, including those on the Metro Council, to run the government. A referendum may let Delgado’s colleagues off the hook politically. But it’s not the best way to make law, at any level of government.