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.
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.
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.
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repealed in 2001 less than two years after its passage, and a proposal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
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.
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
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.
they generally would prohibit discrimination based on sexual
orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public
"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."
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.
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.
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
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.
orientation refers to the gender or genders to whom one is attracted;
transgender people are those who identify with the gender opposite their
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.
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