By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - A proposal to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation is unnecessary and would "normalize'' homosexual behavior, the Citizens for Community Values organization claims in a letter sent Tuesday to 20,000 Covington households.
The mailing - received by about 75 percent of all Covington homes - includes a 24-page booklet by the Washington-based Family Research Council that maintains homosexual behavior "has serious emotional and physical dangers associated with it."
Sharonville-based CCV's letter was sent less than two weeks before Covington City Commission's scheduled vote on an expanded human rights ordinance that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
One supporter of the ordinance accused CCV of using faulty logic and lies, while a member of the Covington Human Rights Commission questioned the timing of the mailing.
"The time to have done this was before we had the public hearings," said Charles King, one of five members of the Human Rights Commission. "That's why we had the public hearings. But it's their call and their money."
A separate letter sent by CCV member Gina Bondick to Catholic churches in the Diocese of Covington, Bishop Roger J. Foys and the Covington City Commission says the Vatican maintains that anti-discrimination laws that includes sexual orientation are damaging to families, so the Church discourages such legislation.
It tells recipients to ask City Commission members, who Bondick maintains are mostly Catholic, "how they might properly integrate their faith with the responsibilities they have been given as public servants."
"I thought we had separation of church and state," Covington Mayor Butch Callery said.
Tim Fitzgerald, spokesman for the Diocese of Covington, declined to comment on Bondick's letter, saying Bishop Foys was unavailable for comment.
At recent public hearings in Covington, representatives of the parish councils at Mother of God Church and the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption expressed support for the proposed ordinance, along with representatives of several Protestant churches.
They were among 73 people who told city commissioners that the proposed ordinance would bring needed social and economic change to Northern Kentucky's largest city. Fourteen spoke against the proposed change, saying it would offer special rights to certain groups of people.
Covington officials say they also have received numerous phone calls and e-mails on both sides of the issue.
"The very people who've been pushing such ordinances in Covington and in towns across America ... tell us that these human rights ordinances that include sexual orientation are NOT really about discrimination," Phil Burress, president of CCV, wrote in his letter.
"According to these activists, such ordinances are about 'normalizing' homosexual behavior,'' Burress wrote.
"They are about forcing all of us to accept homosexual behavior as normal, healthy and natural. They are about capturing the minds of the next generation-our children! And they are intended to be one important step toward legalizing same-sex marriages in Kentucky and across the nation."
Covington resident Dean Forster, co-chair of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance, disagreed.
"This ordinance has nothing to do with legalizing same-sex marriages in Kentucky or any state in the union," Forster said.
"It ultimately is directed at discrimination, which does happen. Matthew Shepard was killed (in Wyoming). The military does not let people in who are openly gay. And testimony offered at public hearings in Covington indicates that (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) people have been discriminated against."
David Miller, vice president of the CCV, said prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is "bad law," as someone who claims to be bisexual would have the same protections as someone discriminated against because of race or gender, factors that have no bearing on someone's behavior.
Burress' letter also said Callery had unfairly called CCV "outsiders."
He said the 20-year-old group, which has most recently successfully pressured hotels throughout Greater Cincinnati to drop their in-room adult movie service, has members in 17 Tristate counties, including Northern Kentucky.
Callery said he did not recall referring to CCV as "outsiders," but he said he let Covington residents speak first at public hearings because the human rights proposal "is definitely a city of Covington issue" that could serve as a model for other areas.
Proposed ordinance has changed
Covington's proposed human rights ordinance now includes changes based on meetings with the business community and numerous e-mails, letters and phone calls, special counsel Frank Warnock told Covington City Commission this week.
Commissioners may approve the ordinance at their April 29 meeting.
Among the changes suggested by the Covington Human Rights Commission:
Expanding the Human Rights Commission. Having nine instead of five members would better reflect the community's various segments. The original proposal called for expanding it to seven members.
Eight-employee minimum. In a compromise with the business community, only businesses with at least eight employees would have to comply with the ordinance. Earlier proposals had applied to companies with two or more workers, then six or more, which some feared would be unfair to "mom and pop'' businesses.
Reducing possible fines. The original proposal called for daily fines of $100 to $500 for each day a violation continued. The current proposal eliminates daily fines for each violation, and instead calls for a total fine of $100 to $500.
Three strikes, not one. Instead of removing a business's occupational license after one violation, it would be revoked for three or more "willful violations.''
Arbitration or hearings? Warnock offered two options for handling claims brought under the proposed ordinance: arbitration or hearing officers. An arbitrator or hearing officer would examine the facts, make a decision and give his recommendation to the Human Rights Commission, which would have the final say.
Some in the business community had argued that the arbitration process would take the politics out of the decision-making, but Warnock said that option would be more expensive, as it could cost $75 to $175 an hour.
The new human rights ordinance would repeal the one adopted in 1998 and replace it with a more comprehensive one that protects people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations because of disability, age, sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. Familial status, marital status, parental status and place of birth would be exempt from employment violations at the request of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Religious organizations also would be exempt from housing violations.
Commissioner Jerry Bamberger said he was concerned that the accused parties would have to pay lawyers' fees in frivolous cases where complaints were not justified.
Warnock said he will add a provision that imposes a penalty against anyone who files a frivolous complaint under the new ordinance.
He also said he plans to redefine "color'' and "ancestry'' in the ordinance to address another commissioner's concerns, and would require that the Human Rights Commission adopt procedures for the complaint process.
A final version of the proposed ordinance is to be posted on the city's Web site within a week.
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