The House Judiciary Committee has posted a bill that would create a statewide fairness law to its schedule, which means the anti-discrimination legislation may receive its first ever hearing in the General Assembly as early as next week.
Gay rights advocates have been lobbying state lawmakers for over a decade to bar discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Across the state, only the cities of Louisville, Lexington and Covington have passed laws giving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals civil rights protections.
State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, introduced the proposal. She calls the bill’s movement exciting because Kentucky has never had fairness issues posted to committee.
“This is really groundbreaking for Kentucky to be able to start educating legislators and the public on the need for this legislation,” she says. “All Kentucky citizens should be guaranteed justice and equality. Our gay citizens pay taxes, they’re part of this commonwealth and certainly they should enjoy the same justice that everybody else does.”
At a rally held in Feburary, gay leaders and allies highlighted a survey showing 83 percent of registered voters support civil rights protections for LGBT residents. But state lawmakers have avoided most social issues for the most part during this legislative session.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, has the power to set a hearing and allow for a discussion or vote. Marzian plans to ask Tilley this week for a specific hearing date, but observers are skeptical it will be brought up for a vote.
Still, Marzian says supporters are encouraged by the bill’s posting and want to make their case for passage in front of state lawmakers even if a vote isn’t taken.
“In the cities that have passed Fairness ordinances it has not brought the city down (and) it has not caused devastation. In fact, the citizens of those cities have really enjoyed the justice. And it really is a good piece for bringing in business to the state. They don’t want to come into a state that encourages discrimination,” she says.