Conservative activists in Louisville, Ky., urged the metro council on Monday to allow a public referendum on a proposed civil-rights ordinance that includes gays as a group protected from discrimination. The activists said the 26-member council should postpone a scheduled vote Thursday on the measure. Instead, council member Doug Hawkins said he would propose letting Louisville voters decide--a move that first would require a change in state law to allow for the referendum. "This is one of the most extreme and liberal gay-rights ordinances of its kind in the country," Hawkins said at a news conference at city hall without elaborating.
Walter Jones III, with the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said the council had "stealthily taken up the issue of gay special rights immediately after an election when historically there is a minimum of citizen input." The Family Foundation, a socially conservative group based in Lexington, spearheaded a successful statewide measure on the November 2 ballot that imposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In Jefferson County it carried with 60% approval, Jones said.
Council member Dan Johnson, sponsor of the proposed civil-rights ordinance, predicted it would win council approval Thursday. Hawkins acknowledged he faced "an uphill battle" in seeking a delay. Meanwhile, council member Bob Henderson likened the backlash against gay rights to "the witch-hunts up in the East." Henderson said he is against homosexuality and same-sex marriage but said gays deserve protection from discrimination. "We're not for people depriving you of making a living, going to a job every day or being able to...live in a home without being harassed," Henderson said. "If you're a real, true Christian, in my opinion, you would be there to help people, not to be a detriment to their trying to make a living."
The proposal would prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, family status, age, disability, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation in hiring, housing, and accommodations. Johnson said the measure mirrors the old Jefferson County civil-rights ordinance, which has been in place since 1999. Under the city county merger all laws carried forward from Jefferson County and the old city of Louisville must be reenacted by the end of 2007 or will be stricken from the books. "It doesn't create any new protections," Johnson said in an interview Thursday. "Everybody has the same rights under this law."
Mayor Jerry Abramson believes the existing ordinance has been effective and supports its reenactment with Johnson's measure, a spokesman said Thursday. Jones warned, however, about the proposal's consequences. He said that gay-rights ordinances in other cities have meant that "bizarre behavior will be protected" in businesses, organizations, and public schools. Jones's pleas to allow a public referendum drew occasional "amen" from a handful of supporters. "We believe that this kind of a measure should not be unilaterally handled by 26 people on an issue that will affect the entire Louisville metro area," Jones said.
Jones said a bill would be introduced in the 2005 general assembly to allow for the referendum. He said activists were lining up sponsors. The earliest a referendum could go on the ballot is 2006. He noted that the current civil-rights ordinance can stay in effect until 2007. "There is no reason to rush this matter through," he said. Henderson, meanwhile, dismissed the plea for a referendum as a last gambit by the measure's opponents. "They feel like they're going to lose when it comes to a vote," he said. "So they're desperate."