BEREA — The Berea City Council on Tuesday rejected an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodation.
The measure failed on a vote of 5 to 3.
"I am absolutely for fairness and equality for all people, but I cannot support this ordinance," Councilwoman Violet Farmer said before the vote.
She said she feared expensive legal battles and situations in which "the city would be pitted against local businesses or individuals," and she questioned the need for "another protected class."
Farmer said she also was troubled by the discord the issue had evoked in the community.
"An issue as important to both sides as this one, I wish that people had been able to vote on it," said Councilman Jerry Little, who also went on to vote against the ordinance.
Councilwoman Diane Kerby, however, later said, "Just because it's divisive doesn't mean we shouldn't bring it up."
"If there are any of us who do not have equal rights, that affects all of us," she said. "We're talking about basic human rights ... the right to earn a living and the right to have a place to live."
The council chambers at the Police and Municipal Building were filled to standing-room only, and scores more filled a former service station next door to watch the deliberations via television.
As at a recent public forum on the issue, supporters of the ordinance wore blue T-shirts, and those in opposition wore red.
"I really hope we can find a way to move on together, if the town is as special as we say we are," Councilman Virgil Burnside, who supported the ordinance, said after the vote was taken.
If the measure had passed, Berea would have been the eighth Kentucky city to adopt a fairness ordinance, joining Danville, Frankfort, Lexington, Louisville, Morehead, Covington and Vicco, in Perry County.
The Berea City Council voted in 2011 to resurrect a human rights commission that would investigate claims of religious, racial, sex, age, and physical-disability discrimination. But that ordinance did not extend protections in regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under the ordinance under consideration Tuesday, the Berea Human Rights Commission would have investigated and worked to resolve claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Violations could have carried penalties of $100 to $250 for first or second offenses, and $500 for third or subsequent offenses.
The ordinance would have exempted people, religious institutions, and charitable organizations operated by religious institutions from allegations of discrimination if they had a "sincerely held religious belief."