Frankfort commission again gives first reading to fairness ordinance

raretakis@herald-leader.comAugust 5, 2013 

FRANKFORT — For the second time, the Frankfort Board of Commissioners approved the first reading of a fairness ordinance Monday that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The revised ordinance is expected to get a second reading and final vote on August 26, following a months-long community debate regarding civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

"This has been a five-month process," said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based advocacy organization. "There hasn't been anything done hastily or without transparency."

The board had made changes to the ordinance on July 22, and it was read again as a technical procedure Monday to make sure it couldn't be challenged later on procedural problems, said City Attorney Rob Moore.

The ordinance would amend the city's fair-housing law to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. It also prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodations.

The fair-housing ordinance already protects people from discrimination based on race and religion, among other things.

"All we're doing is just adding gender identity and sexual orientation," Frankfort Mayor Bill May said. "This isn't an attack on religion."

The ordinance exempts religious institutions. Also, someone can attempt to justify a violation of the ordinance under a new state law by citing a "sincerely held religious belief." In those cases, the entity alleging a violation of the ordinance must prove that the city has a "compelling governmental interest" in infringing the person's religious beliefs and that it did so in the "least restrictive means" possible.

Complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity would go to a "fairness officer," who would conduct formal hearings and produce a recommended order. The ordinance also creates a seven-member Frankfort Human Rights Commission to determine violations and accept or revise the fairness officer's recommendation.

City commissioner Robert Roach said he was glad that the penalty for violating the ordinance was altered in July, changing from a possible year in jail to a fine of up to $500.

Still, he said, the ordinance "unnecessarily divides the community."

If the ordinance passes on Aug. 26, Frankfort will become the fifth Kentucky city to approve such an ordinance, following Lexington, Louisville, Covington, and Vicco in Perry County.

May said he expects it to be approved and hopes that things will settle down once it is enacted.

"I hope folks will realize it won't intrude on their personal lives as much as they fear," May said.

Rachel Aretakis: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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