For the second time in 17 years of lobbying the General Assembly, supporters of statewide civil rights protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kentuckians were given 15 minutes to address the House Judiciary Committee.
But that was all. There won’t be a vote this year on their civil-rights measure, House Bill 155. Next year doesn’t look favorable, either, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.
The legislature lacks the “political courage” to support equal rights for all, Marzian told reporters after the committee hearing. A vote might be possible in two or three more years, if lawmakers finally catch up with the public’s evolving views, she said.
“As long as people feel like they’re taking a political hit to vote for fairness, it’s going to be difficult,” Marzian said.
“By and large, I would say almost all of them (Democrats) support it, but they don’t want to vote on it yet,” she said.
The Republicans are just a bunch of homophobes, basically. They’re just homophobes. What can I say? That’s the bottom line. They don’t want — and probably they’re all afraid somebody might think they’re gay.
State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville
Marzian added: “The Republicans are just a bunch of homophobes, basically. They’re just homophobes. What can I say? That’s the bottom line. They don’t want — and probably they’re all afraid somebody might think they’re gay.”
Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington, the House Republican caucus chairman, later responded to Marzian’s remark: “I think that’s silly, and it doesn’t really merit a comment.”
“If they have the votes, then they should bring it. But I don’t think they have the votes,” Lee said. “I’m a born-again Christian, I believe in the Bible and I know what it says about that kind of conduct. And I know that, based on my own faith, I just cannot condone it.”
Marzian’s bill – and a companion measure, Senate Bill 176 – would extend the Kentucky Civil Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion,national origin, sex or disability in matters of employment, housing, public accommodations, financial transactions and insurance. Smokers are protected in hiring and firing and cannot be charged higher insurance premiums based on their tobacco use. The Civil Rights Act is enforced by state and local human rights commissions, which can levy fines.
Some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kentuckians enjoy piecemeal protections depending on where they live and work.
Eight cities encompassing about a quarter of the state’s population, including Lexington and Louisville, have enacted local “fairness ordinances” to extend civil rights protection to their LGBT residents. All eight Fortune 1000 companies based in Kentucky prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; five of them also cover gender identity. And in 2008, then-Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order protecting state workers from discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
But attempts at broader protection have fallen short. Supporters of a statewide measure say they hear scattered reports of LGBT Kentuckians who have lost out on jobs or services because of discrimination. The state’s most talented workers and the nation’s best employers don’t want to be in a place considered prejudiced, they said.
“You shouldn’t be able to fire someone just because they’re gay. You shouldn’t be able to kick someone out of a restaurant just because they’re gay,” said Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, sponsor of the Senate version of Marzian’s bill. “If we are going to send the signal that we are a compassionate, progressive state to employers across the country, then we have to pass legislation like this.”
Marzian and her allies hoped to make her civil-rights bill an economics issue, calling it the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Act. They introduced business leaders to the House committee who said diversity is important to smart companies.
“Hiring and promoting men and women from a wide range of backgrounds, different social and economic circumstances, ethnicities, experiences in (other) countries, has certainly made us more diverse, and in turn, much, much stronger companies, and is one of the qualities we’re most proud of,” said Bob Brousseau, marketing director at Peptides International, a biotechnology firm in Louisville.
About 80,000 LGBT workers live in Kentucky, and 77 percent of them are not protected by a local fairness ordinance, according to a new report from The Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law monitoring LGBT issues . The institute said it based its estimates on data from the U.S. Census and the Gallup Poll.
Opposing the civil-rights bills is the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which called them “religious discrimination” against Christians who don’t want to violate their principles.
This bill will be used as a club to punish Christian business owners whose religious beliefs prevent them from toeing the liberal party line on gender issues. It will sacrifice Christian-owned businesses on the alter of political correctness.
Family Foundation spokesman Martin Cothran
“This bill will be used as a club to punish Christian business owners whose religious beliefs prevent them from toeing the liberal party line on gender issues,” said Family Foundation spokesman Martin Cothran. “It will sacrifice Christian-owned businesses on the alter of political correctness.”
The House Judiciary Committee gave an earlier version of the bill a 15-minute hearing once before, in 2014. Most years, the bill is filed, assigned to the committee and never heard from again.
At a rally in the Capitol Rotunda after the hearing, several hundred proponents of the civil-rights bills celebrated a year of victories in the federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court last June legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, striking down Kentucky’s ban. U.S. District Judge David Bunning subsequently forced Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to let her deputies issue marriage licenses despite her personal religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
But the General Assembly has been a tougher nut to crack, speakers told the crowd. In reaction to last year’s Supreme Court ruling and the Kim Davis protest, the Senate is considering a measure, Senate Bill 5, that would establish alternative versions of the state marriage license, one for “brides” and “grooms” and the other for “first party” and “second party.”
“Senate Bill 5 would seek to accommodate public officials by creating two different marriage licenses, one for straight couples and one for gay couples,” activist T. Benicio Gonzales of Louisville said to a chorus of boos. “Friends, has separate ever been equal?”
The Senate plans to vote Thursday on SB 5. Gov. Matt Bevin already has issued an executive order to remove county clerks’ names from the top of the marriage licenses at the request of Davis and other clerks who said they no longer want to be personally associated with the documents issued by their offices.