Cincinnati mayor calls for repeal of antigay law

BY admin

February 03 2004 12:00 AM ET

Cincinnati's mayor on Monday called on voters to repeal a 1993 city charter amendment that made it the only U.S. city to ban enactment or enforcement of laws addressing issues related to sexual orientation. Mayor Charlie Luken said times and attitudes have changed and that Cincinnati should rescind the amendment in the interests of showing tolerance and supporting diversity.

Tourism officials say the charter amendment has cost Cincinnati more than $64 million in business since 1993 because organizations have chosen to locate their conventions elsewhere, due to a perception that the city is unfriendly to gay people. Cincinnati's amendment forbids gay rights activists from approaching city officials to lobby for any laws that would deal with sexual orientation.

It also repealed the section of a 1992 city human rights ordinance that forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations. That same ordinance bans discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, marital status, and
ethnic identity.

This was Luken's first formal call for repeal of the amendment, after previously saying in informal remarks that he supports it, said his spokesman, Brendon Cull. The Equal Rights, Not Special Rights coalition that drafted the 1993 charter amendment and helped persuade 62% of voters to approve it said it would fight repeal efforts. Phil Burress, the coalition's chairman, said he believes that any vote on the amendment would keep it intact rather than repeal it. "No one's entitled to special rights based on private sexual behavior," Burress said Monday.

The sixth U.S. circuit court of appeals upheld the amendment, concluding that the city's voters had authority to impose it. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1998 declined to review the issue. The Supreme Court rejected a similar Colorado statewide measure, however, saying it was improper to impose it on all of the state's cities.

Burress said the current national debate over whether to allow same-sex marriage shows how far-reaching the issue of granting "preferential treatment" to a group of people can go. "That's really the bottom line about this whole debate--same-sex marriage," Burress said. On January 21 the Ohio senate approved legislation stating that same-sex marriage is "against the strong public policy of the state." Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign the bill after the house approves minor changes to it.

An organization lobbying for repeal of Cincinnati's amendment, Citizens to Restore Fairness, has been collecting signatures to place the repeal issue on the ballot. The group said it plans to present the signatures to the Hamilton County Board of Elections when it begins accepting ballot issues for the November election.

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