LIVE VIDEO: 10 News Daybreak    Watch
 

Gay rights ordinances pushed in small Kentucky towns

9:34 AM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
Andy Frueh distributes proposal information to Elizabethtown (Ky.) City Council members prior to speaking about a fairness ordinance request on Nov. 26./Gannett
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. - In a scene that has been playing out in small cities throughout Kentucky in recent weeks, local citizens working with the statewide Fairness Coalition - which includes groups such as the Louisville, Ky.-based Fairness Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky - are seeking local anti-bias protections for gay and transgender people.

In Elizabethtown, Ky., a dozen activists went to City Hall where they presented the City Council with a proposal for an ordinance banning discrimination in housing, accommodations and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"We're not asking for anything more than ... the right to be who we are and to live our lives peacefully without having any fear of discrimination," said Rose Marie Rocha of the nearby Hardin County, Ky., community of Cecilia.

Only Louisville, Lexington and Covington have such ordinances right now, but ordinances have also been proposed in Shelbyville, Bowling Green, Richmond and Berea. And Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said efforts may be launched in more towns early next year.

So far, small county seats and other conservative heartland communities in Kentucky have resisted such measures. A Henderson ordinance was repealed in 2001 less than two years after its passage, and a proposal for one fell short in Berea last year.

Support in elections

But gay rights advocates are taking heart from the national elections in November - even though Kentucky voters overwhelmingly voted for candidates running on conservative platforms - to make their push.

Until November, even blue states had never backed same-sex marriage by popular referendum, as Maine, Maryland and Washington did in this year's elections. In addition, President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage, and polls show younger voters to be increasingly affirming of gays and lesbians.

"I think the nation's reached a tipping point," said Hartman, who also is calling on the General Assembly to pass statewide laws that would eliminate the need for a city-by-city campaign.

But Hartman and other advocates are quick to add that the current proposals in small cities do not address same-sex marriage, which Kentucky voters banned in a 2004 constitutional amendment.

Instead, they generally would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations.

"You need to bring people along, make sure people know exactly what the ordinance is," said Jane Thomas, a Shelbyville resident who helped present the ordinance in her city in November. "It doesn't have anything to do with marriage, it has to do with fairness."

'Conservative county'

Shelbyville Mayor Thomas L. Hardesty said he wants to give City Council members time to review the proposal, but he doubted it would get support. "Shelby County is still a very conservative county," he said.

Shelby County, Shelbyville and Simpsonville have a joint Human Rights Commission that monitors cases of bias involving categories protected under state and federal law, such as race, religion, gender and age.

Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said he hasn't seen proof of the need for extending such protections to the categories of sexual orientation or gender identity. And "I don't perceive that those laws have any chance right now to pass the legislature," Cothran added.

While acknowledging national liberalizing trends on the issue, he said "there is going to be some point in which the culture shift which is happening stops and levels out. Obviously in the red states, that bottoming-out point is higher than in the blue states."

Kansas voters, for example, rejected gay rights ordinances in two cities last month. Yet, such ordinances are spreading in the heartland. In the past year in Indiana, smaller cities such as New Albany, Evansville and South Bend have adopted them.

"What the demographic information shows and what our experience shows is it matters less and less to people the reason you are treated unfairly," said the Rev. Kent Gilbert, pastor of Union Church in Berea and an advocate for an ordinance in that city. "It matters more and more that you are not."

In Elizabethtown, Mayor Tim Walker declined to say how he felt about the proposed ordinance until council members and the city attorney could review it. The measure would exempt certain religious organizations and certain small businesses.

Cothran said opponents of the ordinances have "serious religious liberty concerns about these kinds of laws" as they apply not only "to churches but owners of religious organizations that are not churches and religious owners of regular businesses."

Cothran cited the decision of Catholic adoption agencies to cease operating in some states where they were required to serve same-sex couples.

Hartman said the ordinances, such as the one proposed for Elizabethtown, exempt religious organizations and religious-operated nonprofit groups, though not for-profit business owners.

"Built into the law is a pretty explicit attempt to preserve religious freedom," he said. "But being able to eat at a local restaurant, that's the type of public accommodation that really has to be open to everyone."

Laws on bias, sexual orientation and gender identity

So-called fairness ordinances and laws vary in details, but they generally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or both in matters of housing, employment and public accommodations.

Sexual orientation refers to the gender or genders to whom one is attracted; transgender people are those who identify with the gender opposite their birth gender.

Federal, Kentucky and Indiana laws do not prohibit such discrimination. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation; all but five of them also include gender identity.

Federal, Kentucky and Indiana civil rights laws generally prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin or disability.

Neither Kentucky nor federal civil rights laws prohibit private-sector bias against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although executive orders prohibit it in areas such as state hiring and federal public housing.

Most Watched Videos