As the final vote on a proposed Daviess County LGBTQ nondiscrimination (fairness) ordinance approaches, concerns about infringements on the rights of the citizens have grown, said county attorney Claud Porter.
The proposed ordinance would bar discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing against members of the LGBTQ community.
From infringements on religious liberties to business practices to housing, the narrative being created among those opposed to the ordinance paints a different picture, according to Porter.
For some, concerns have even risen that religious leaders could face punitive measures if their messages from the pulpit besmirch the LGBTQ community.
These worries, however, are unfounded, Porter said.
“The majority of the concerns I have received are misplaced,” he said. “The ordinance does not do much of what others have characterized it to do. It does not change the ability for someone to follow their religious beliefs nor does it prevent a speech that would allow them to say what their beliefs are.”
Much of the confusion and fear surrounding the proposed ordinance stem from issues that have arisen, not only in Kentucky, but around the nation regarding business owners being sued for discrimination as well as complaints against landlords.
Two prime examples that are often brought up by those opposed to the ordinance in regards to its threat on small business are the now infamous Colorado-based bakery lawsuit and the recent lawsuit against Lexington-based Hands On Originals T-shirt company.
The basis of the Colorado suit dealt with the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, being sued because they refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple based on the owner’s religious beliefs. For Hands On Originals, the suit stemmed from the owners refusing to make “Lexington Pride Festival” T-shirts for Lexington’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization.
The structure of the Daviess County ordinance, especially the myriad exemptions specifically protecting the religious beliefs of business owners, landlords as well as general religious rights, would guarantee that those sorts of lawsuits would not happen, Porter said.
“The exemptions nearly swallow the ordinance,” he said. “In the case of the baker, if you are asked to bake a cake and say no, that is fine. A person could simply say, I am unable to do that. It is when someone says specifically, ‘I am not going to that because you are gay,’ that is when you get in trouble.”
The addition of “gender identity or sexual orientation” to the language already protecting individuals from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex and age, as laid out in the ordinance, is simply an attempt by the LGBTQ community as well as those in support of the ordinance to be recognized as equal members of the community, hence the myriad exemptions added to address specific fears surrounding those that are transgender and bathrooms.
In Section Three Part Three of the proposed ordinance, entitled Unlawful Practices in Public Accommodations, the drafters of the ordinance specifically address that issue. The ordinance states:
“This section shall not apply with regards to sex and gender identity, to the following: Restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses, locker rooms, changing areas or similar facilities which are, by their nature, designed or intended for separate sexes. YMCA, YWCA and similar dormitory-type lodging facilities. The exemptions contained in the definitions of place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement as set forth in this ordinance and hospitals, nursing homes, schools, child care facilities, jails, penal or similar facilities with respect to any requirement that men and women not be in the same room.”
As Porter said, a great deal of this ordinance is made up of exemptions protecting everyone, either for or against.
Porter added that special care was taken to ensure that no one’s religious rights would be infringed upon as laid out in Section Three Part Six, titled General Exemptions from this Chapter:
“The provisions of this ordinance regarding sexual orientation and gender identity shall not apply to faith-based social service providers or counselors, to any religious institutions, associations, societies, entities, or to an organization operated for charitable or educational purposes which is owned, operated, controlled by or affiliated with a religious institution, association, society or entity.”
This general exemption further states that the ordinance shall not infringe on the protections set forth in KRS 446.350, which protects the populace from government interfering with ones “strongly held” religious beliefs.
In short, the ordinance, in its very language simply seeks to allow the members of the LGBTQ community to be recognized by the county as equally protected members of Owensboro-Daviess County and protect the rights of those that oppose such an ordinance.
“I think people have read those exemptions and think that they are included, but they are exemptions. It specifically offers protections for religious entities, employers and housing for all sides as well as protections against frivolous lawsuits. The exemptions that are there address everyone’s concerns.”
The second forum addressing the proposed ordinance will take place at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at Brescia University’s Taylor Lecture Hall.
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, email@example.com