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Berea City Council Approves Creation Of Human Rights Panel

The Berea City Council has adopted an ordinance that will create a Human Rights Commission to investigate discrimination complaints.

But activists are upset that the council declined to consider an ordinance  that would offer protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The council had been considering  a fairness ordinance similar those on the books in Lexington, Louisville and Covington, but instead opted for the creation of the commission.

Prior to the meeting, hundreds of activists marched and rallied, urging the council to approve the legal protections.

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Fairness Ordinance Supporters To Rally In Berea

Thanks to Josh James, Kentucky Public Radio
Months of debate at Berea City Council meetings and forums haven’t moved the issue of a fairness ordinance any closer to being resolved.

Since May, the eastern Kentucky city has been considering extending its anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Right now, the Berea council is weighing the creation of a human rights commission, but the proposal lacks the anti-discrimination protections in question and hasn’t been voted on since July.

Jason Howard with Bereans for Fairness says his group plans to rally ahead of tomorrow’s council meeting and send a message to the lawmakers.

“We’re still here. We’re not going away. We’re committed to seeing action,” he said.

Opponents of a fairness ordinance say the extra protections aren’t necessary.

Berea would be the fourth city in Kentucky to pass a fairness ordinance, after Louisville, Lexington, and Covington.

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After Months, Berea Still Taking “First Step” on Human Rights Commission

Despite months of meetings on a proposed fairness ordinance and human rights commission, members of the Berea city council still say they’re taking the “first step” on the issue.

In May, the council first considered passing an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and creating a commission to educate the public. A subcommittee was formed to research and inform the rest of the council on the two ideas.

Some expected the council would vote on the ordinance last month, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the subcommittee held two public forums and about eight meetings.  Tuesday night, the subcommittee will present their findings on a human rights commission to the council.  But committee member Truman Fields says there will not be a vote on whether to actually form the commission.

“We’re getting a lot of material, talked to a lot of people,” Fields said. “We’re going to do something pretty soon.  No, I don’t think we’re going too slow.”

The council will only discuss the human rights commission Tuesday. Two such discussions are required before a vote on an ordinance.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Fischer Extends Domestic Partner Benefits to Metro Employees

Joined by members of the Louisville Metro Council and gay rights advocates, Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order Friday extending domestic partner benefits to Metro Government employees  that will go into effect July 1, 2012.

The policy decision to offer health insurance benefits to couples living together in a household but who are not legally married follows many Fortune 500 company policies. In 2006, the University of Louisville instituted a similar program, as have other local companies such as  Humana and Brown-Forman.

Fischer says if the city wants to attract the best and brightest talent to live in Louisville, it must offer domestic partner benefits that are competitive with the private sector.

“We know that Louisville is a growing and vibrant international city and for nay 21st Century city to succeed it must value all people, be a welcoming city and certainly embrace diversity,” he says.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Fairness Leader Believes Gay Marriage “Inevitable” in Kentucky

Gay rights advocates celebrated the vote by the New York state legislature that legalized same-sex marriage, but one local activist hopes it means change in Kentucky.

The controversial bill cleared the Republican-controlled state Senate in the Empire State after heavy lobbying by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who courted affluent GOP donors for support. The new law takes effect in less than 30 days, and marriage equality activists believe it will have a national effect and that other states will soon follow.

Louisville Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says public opinion on gay rights is shifting and even more conservative states will come around.

“What we continue to see is as time progresses the amount of American and Kentuckian acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and their equal civil rights has continued to steadily climb,” he says.

Opponents, however, point out that Kentucky voters overwhelming supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions by a 3-to-1 margin less than seven years ago. And the General Assembly still hasn’t gotten close to debating a statewide fairness law in committee. The law would bar discrimination in housing, public accommodations and the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Still, Hartman believes gay marriage is inevitable in the commonwealth and only the time frame is in question.

“The logic in the trend is that ultimately 100 percent of Americans are going to believe that equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans and Kentuckians is just intrinsically logical,” he says. “The same way that we made that decision for the black civil rights movement.”

Gay couples still cannot get married in 44 states and 30 have taken steps to pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions. Out-of-state requests for marriage licenses will be considered in New York later this month.

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Berea Delays Making Decision on Fairness Ordinance

On Tuesday night, the Berea City Council announced it will take longer than expected to come to a decision about the possibility of a city fairness ordinance.  The council has held public forums on the ordinance, which would prohibit discrimination in the workplace and housing market due to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s a very serious issue,” says Diane Kerby, who serves on the council.  “One that deserves as much time as it needs to make sure that we’re making the right decision and that we consider all the various comments and support.”

Chris Hartman’s Fairness Campaign has lobbied for the ordinance.  Although the decision will be delayed, he says he isn’t dismayed by the announcement.

“I’m not concerned that it’s not going to happen,” he says.  “Certainly I want the city to be certain that they’re moving in the right direction.  It’s just the legislative process sometimes takes longer than I’d like.”

Kerby characterizes the public’s opinion as split, with passionate voices on both sides.  She says the council will put off making a decision for as long as necessary and will use this time to consult legal experts.