Although no vote was taken, supporters of a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity hailed Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing as a crucial first step toward a statewide fairness law.
It’s unclear, however, whether House Bill 171 will receive a full committee hearing, let alone consideration on the House floor.
Rep. John Tilley, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he is still contemplating whether to call the bill for a vote in his committee.
Tilley said lawmakers of both parties in the House expressed some concerns with the legislation, specifically whether such a law would spur frivolous lawsuits. Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said he would vote for HB 171, adding discrimination of any sort should not exist in employment, business, housing and public accommodations.
“I think this hearing, the informational hearing, was an attempt to, again, maybe dispel some of that concern and answer some of the questions that still exists in regard to the bill,” Tilley said.
Wednesday marked the first time a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to those protected by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission was presented in a legislative committee.
Frankfort is one of six cities with a local fairness ordinance, but Covington Mayor Sherry Carran said the state should provide a uniform law rather than allowing cities to pass piecemeal ordinances.
Twenty-five percent of Kentucky’s population lives in cities with fairness ordinances, she said, and a statewide survey by the Fairness Campaign found 83 percent of respondents support a statewide law banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Covington, one of the first cities to adopt a local fairness ordinance, has not been inundated with pointless lawsuits since enacting the ordinance, Carran said. Prospective employers look favorably on cities with anti-discrimination policies, she added.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Louisville Democrat and sponsor of HB 171, said she has attempted to pass a fairness law for 15 years. She recounted a story of her gay brother, who attempted suicide when he was 16 because he had been treated so poorly after making his sexual orientation known.
Former Audubon Park Police Sgt. Kile Nave, who is gay, said he was vindicated when Louisville’s Human Relations Commission found the police force had terminated him because of his sexual orientation. Others should have the same protections, he said.
“I’m a proud Christian, a Republican, a gun owner, and I’m gay,” Nave said. “And I deserve to be protected from discrimination like everyone else.”
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said he’s unsure whether HB 171 and its counterpart in the Senate, Senate Bill 140, will achieve much progress this session. If the issue fails to gain more traction this year, Hartman said his group would continue its work during next year’s session.
“I think we’ve got an uphill battle with the General Assembly, but this shows progress,” Hartman said.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a co-sponsor of HB 171, said the legislation is “probably facing a bit of a struggle right now” in gaining a foothold in the House, but attitudes are beginning to change on the issue of fairness for homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals.
The struggle for the statewide fairness bill in the Legislature is “much more political than substantive,” he said.
“Any struggle where the rights of minorities are involved no matter what causes the class to become a minority, whether it’s conduct or whether it’s creed or color or gender, it’s always more political than it is substantive,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.