The hopes of Owensboro-Daviess County’s LGBTQ community fell on Thursday night to a 2-2 split vote, effectively ending the possibility of a Daviess County nondiscrimination ordinance, also known as fairness ordinance.
The vote, broadcast via Facebook Live due to COVID-19, took place in an empty fiscal court meeting room on the second floor of the Daviess Courthouse.
It was a stark comparison to the hundreds of community members who have crowded the benches and hallways of the court in past meetings centered around the ordinance.
Ultimately, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly and County Commissioner Mike Koger voted in favor with commissioners George Wathen and Charlie Castlen voting against.
Mattingly, who has been a staunch supporter of the ordinance, tipped his hat to the community on both sides for maintaining, in most cases, civility through the duration of the community conversation surrounding the ordinance and touched on the fact that fears surrounding lawsuits as a result of the passage of such an ordinance.
“All my life, I have tried to stand for people that didn’t have anyone to stand up for them,” Mattingly said. “I have tried to make sure that I was there for anyone being marginalized or bullied. There are folks that say discrimination doesn’t occur. It does and I think those folks for opening my eyes; I didn’t have a clue. It took this to open my eyes. The more I contemplated, I knew it was the right thing to do. A two to two vote is not a defeat, it is a procedural error. They convinced 50% of their view; unfortunately, the other side convinced the other 50%. I am disappointed in one respect and I am happy with the civility that was shown. My mind hasn’t been changed at all; I will continue to support the LGBTQ community in their efforts.”
Koger initially announced he would vote against the ordinance when the issue first came up in late summer 2019.
But he said he had a change of heart in a decision that yielded “no winners.”
“I may have jumped the gun in the beginning and didn’t do my job in fully digging into the issue,” he said. “I represent the community and have listened to both sides. My heart has been torn in two because I have friends on both sides of this issue. Ultimately, I felt that the issue wasn’t all about the Bible; these folks feel that they have been discriminated against and just want to be on even ground with everyone else. I feel that people in the LGBTQ community have been discriminated against. In my heart, I needed to vote in favor of the ordinance. Nobody wins in this, on either side.”
Castlen, as was the case during the meeting, declined to comment on his vote.
For Wathen, who stuck to his “no” throughout the course of the fairness saga, is “glad it is over,” he said.
“It shouldn’t have lasted this long,” he said. “It should have been a two- or three-month process. It made it more painful for people. There were people that had a lot of false hope thinking it would pass. I’m glad it is over. I think we knew how it would come out; everyone did a month into the process.”
While supporters may have lost the county battle, the war for “fairness” in the region is far from over, said Deanna Smith, Owensboro Fairness Campaign chairwoman and city commission candidate.
“Our next steps will be to regroup and discuss the steps we need to take to bring it before the city,” she said. “We will be looking at the various avenues we could take. I am planning on taking a step back to focus on my campaign for the city commission. After tonight, it is important that the LGBTQ community has representation in our government. Those in charge don’t relate to all of the citizens and because they don’t relate doesn’t mean they should disregard certain members of the community. What happened tonight is a failure to any public official. I am disappointed in Castlen; he has kept quiet until the final moment. We were hoping he would abstain, but he voted no.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, email@example.com