Politics
1:18 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Covington Mayor, City Commissioners Ask Gov. Beshear to Block 'Religious Freedom' Bill

Steve Beshear
Credit Rae Hodge/Kentucky Public Radio

The mayor and city commissioners of Covington, Kentucky are asking Governor Steve Beshear to block the so-called ‘religious freedom’ bill, renewing pressure for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to join the opposition.

In a unanimously approved resolution, the commission says HB 279 presents a risk to Covington’s Human Rights Ordinance, which forbids discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered residents.

Covington Mayor Sherry Carran has also signed a separate letter urging the governor to veto the measure, saying it is a poor representation of the state.

The bill allows individuals to ignore laws and regulations that violate tenets of their faith, and was overwhelmingly approved by the General Assembly. But in the non-binding measure, Covington officials say the measure could undermine civil rights protections under the "guise of a 'sincerely held religious beliefs'"

Former Covington City Commissioner Shawn Masters says Democrats and Republicans makeup the local assembly, and residents in his city are worried because the law is so broad.

"It says how progressive Covington actually is. That we are very diverse, we welcome all and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. And it just goes to show here in Northern Kentucky and particularly Covington we are about equality for all," says Masters, who currently serves as president of the Northern Kentucky Democratic League.

Supporters argue the measure is needed due to court decisions allowing the government to infringe on First Amendment rights, and tell WFPL opponents are trying to scare public officials.

"They can't produce a single case where anyone's civil rights have been violated under this and if they're going to make that argument they need to show some evidence," says Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation.

Covington is one of four Kentucky cities—along with Louisville, Lexington and Vicco—that have a fairness law.

Mayor Carran's letter warns Beshear adding the religious freedom measure to state law could deter professionals and companies from moving to the state.

"If HB 279 becomes law, it has potential to do harm and will present a poor image of our state to progressive professionals and companies who understand and appreciate the value of diversity and open-mindedness," she says.

Opponents of the bill in Louisville have voiced frustration with Mayor Fischer’s silence on the bill, which made it through with overwhelming support in the General Assembly this month.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer
Credit Gabe Bullard/WFPL

A Fischer spokesperson told WFPL the mayor’s office is still is doing "diligent research" before making any comment, but city lawmakers are urging the mayor to add his voice before the governor makes a decision.

"The first call I’ll probably make when I hang up here is to Mayor Fischer to ask him to join in the chorus," says Democratic Louisville Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, one of six council members urge the governor to block the legislation. "I don’t know what his schedule’s been or where he is on this issue, but I have confidence he will step up."

For many social justice advocates, Louisville is the unofficial headquarters of the state's gay rights movement given that it passed the first Fairness Ordinance in 1999.

"If (local mayors) have this legislation on the books all they have to do is read how vague HB 279 is," says Masters. "And if they don’t sign on one needs to question what their motives actually are in my opinion."

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