Hate-crimes bill passes in Cincinnati

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 07 2003 1:00 AM ET

The Cincinnati city council expanded the city's hate-crimes law on Wednesday to include crimes based on gender, age, physical or mental disability, and sexual orientation. The law already covered race, color, religion, and national origin. "It is an issue of tolerance...and ultimately, it's about being proud of our city," said councilman John Cranley, who introduced the amendment. "It is standing up for the dignity of all life." The amendment was approved 7-2. There was no public comment during an emotional three-hour meeting of council's Law and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. "I searched the depths of my soul," said councilman Paul Booth, who supported the change after abstaining on Tuesday's committee vote. "I don't see this as a pro-gay agenda. I see it as pro-human rights."

Most of the debate focused on the sexual orientation provision. Cincinnati is the only U.S. city with a charter amendment forbidding enactment or enforcement of laws providing protections based on sexual orientation, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Supporters of the change told the committee that crimes against gay men and lesbians are underreported because victims often are afraid to come forward. Several gay men and women said they have been publicly harassed, received harassing phone calls, or have had their tires slashed.

Jacob Perry, 28, of Cincinnati, hailed the expansion of the hate-crimes law. "It's a sense of relief," said Perry, who said he was assaulted in November because he is gay. "Since then, I have not had the courage to go downtown. This tells me it's OK, that the police are going to be there for me."

Councilman Chris Monzel said he opposed expanded coverage because he believes it is unnecessary. "To me, it's a duplication of crimes already on the books," Monzel said. "If we want to increase the penalty for crimes already on the books, that's fine with me, but this is not the way to do it." The amendment amounts to "piling on," Monzel said, because it merely adds another misdemeanor charge on top of a misdemeanor such as assault or criminal mischief. Misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Debate over the hate-crimes provision was similar to the debate that occurred after the city council's 1992 vote in favor of a human rights ordinance that forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things. That prompted the 1993 charter amendment, approved by voters, that forbids laws providing protections based on sexual orientation. Activists who supported the amendment said they will file a lawsuit challenging the change in the hate-crimes law and target its supporters for defeat in the November election. They contend that any laws specifically crafted to protect gay people amount to special rights not afforded to the general public.

Cincinnati's city law department has said the expanded hate-crimes law would not violate the charter because the ordinance would be a criminal enactment and would not create a legal basis for any claim by a victim of harassment. Tourism officials say the perception that the city is unfriendly to gay people has cost Cincinnati at least $64 million in convention business of organizations that went elsewhere. "This provides some real protection and makes a statement about what kind of city we want to be," said Mayor Charlie Luken.