FRANKFORT — Kentucky's capital became the fifth city in the state to adopt an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
With the 3-2 passage of the ordinance Thursday by its city commission, Frankfort joined Lexington, Louisville, Covington, and Vicco in Perry County as cities with similar ordinances.
Mayor Bill May and commissioners Katie Flynn Hedden and Tommy Haynes voted for the ordinance. Commissioners Robert Roach and Lynn Bowers opposed it.
Under the ordinance, complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity would go to the mayor or a designated fairness officer, who would work to resolve the dispute.
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If that is unsuccessful, the person alleging discrimination could file a formal complaint with the seven-member Frankfort Human Rights Commission, which will be created by the ordinance.
The ordinance provides exemptions for religious institutions. It also includes a provision governing how cases should be handled when an alleged violator holds "a sincerely held religious belief."
Businesses with fewer than eight employees would be exempt from the hiring provisions, but they could not deny services to customers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Passage of the ordinance was postponed twice this summer as amendments were added. The ordinance had been scheduled for final passage Monday, but that was postponed when the commission added "legal guardianship" to the definition of family.
Bowers sought to make two amendments that could have further delayed passage.
In the first amendment, Bowers made a motion to better define "gender identity." Hedden initially seconded the motion for the amendment but she later withdrew her second.
Bowers then sought to add "asexuality" to the list of protected statuses. That motion died for lack of a second.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based advocacy organization, said Thursday was a historic day "because, for the first time, more than a quarter of Kentuckians live in a city with anti-discrimination fairness protections."
Berea could take up a similar ordinance in the near future, Hartman said, and Morehead, Elizabethtown and Bowling Green could consider similar ordinances. That will mean a renewed push for a state law in the Kentucky General Assembly.
"As more and more Kentucky cities do this, the state legislature is going to have to address the issue," Hartman said. "There should be one uniform law that covers and protects everyone so that it doesn't have to be passed piecemeal across the commonwealth. But until those protections are extended, it's going to have be done at the local level."
The commission listened to an hour of public comments on the ordinance before taking a vote shortly after 9 a.m.
The Rev. Wade Hughes of West Frankfort Church of God cited passages from the Bible that speak against homosexuality.
"I beg you not to pass this," Hughes told the commissioners.
But Frankfort resident Christina Libby urged passage.
"This ordinance is not a demand to celebrate (homosexuality) but to not discriminate against people who sin differently than you," Libby said. "If this were about denying service to the highest level of sinner in the eyes of certain local churches, I and other people in this room would have gone hungry, homeless and jobless a long time ago."