A familiar chant echoed throughout the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday above the mass of about 200 Kentucky gay rights supporters.
“What do we want?” several speakers repeatedly yelled.
“Fairness!” the crowd shouted back.
“When do we want it?” they inquired again.
Chris Hartman — director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, part of the larger Fairness Coalition, which hosted the rally — said supporters have likely used that chant for more than two decades.
But after they saw their movement reinvigorated last year and momentum continue in 2014, that “now” appears closer than ever.
A federal judge ruled last week that Kentucky must recognize gay marriages performed in other states — notwithstanding the state’s 2004 constitutional ban on such unions.
“We are looking forward to renewing our wedding vows in our state, the state we love,” Tammy Boyd told the crowd at the event. She’s part of the still-ongoing case with her wife, Kim Franklin, and another couple.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo signed on Monday as the 17th co-sponsor to House Bill 171, which would protect Kentuckians statewide from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations.
That bill hasn’t received a committee hearing for the at least 15 years it’s been filed, but 17 co-sponsors is seven more than the legislation has ever had. Hartman said he’d be “extraordinarily surprised” if there were no hearing this year after such momentum.
“We are extremely optimistic that this is the year for the hearing,” he said.
The Senate version of the bill also has a record number of co-sponsors, according to a Fairness Coalition press release. Among them is Senate Minority Whip Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville.
But no Republicans have signed on, and Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation of Kentucky, said his group would fight the bill if it moves forward. Cothran said he was the lead lobbyist in getting the 2004 marriage ban passed.
While awaiting passage of a statewide anti-discrimination bill, supporters have passed similar local ordinances in six cities — three of those in just the last year. Hartman said Louisville, Lexington and Covington passed such “Fairness Ordinances” more than a decade ago, but there was a lull until Vicco passed one in January 2013.
The story of a 300-person Appalachian town outlawing discrimination toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals caught national media attention and received a dedicated segment of “The Colbert Report,” a popular cable television show.
Vicco’s ordinance was followed by Frankfort’s in August and Morehead’s in December. Danville’s City Commission is set to hear a first reading of a Fairness Ordinance in March, said Jane Brantley, who attended Wednesday’s rally. She said she and a friend, the Rev. Eric Mount, first brought the issue before the commission.
“We’re very excited,” Brantley said. “… This is not a special rights issue, it’s a civil rights and human rights issue.”