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Union Postpones Fairness Ordinance Vote, State Senator Voices Opposition

The Union city commission opted to postpone its vote on a proposed fairness ordinance to February due to the absence of one of its members.

The ordinance would extend further legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and would make Union the first city in Boone Co. to adopt such an ordinance, joining nine others across Northern Kentucky with such a law on the books.

The outcome of the vote is speculated to be close, possibly.

Mayor Larry Solomon expressed skepticism about the need for the ordinance at Monday night's city commission meeting while State Senator John Schickel (R-Union), who was in attendance, expressed his opposition to it. 

"The fact of the matter is, the U.S. Constitution and the Kentucky constitution protect all of us equally," said Schickel. "We all have access to the courts and I believe this is a friendly, welcoming community. If someone is discriminated against, they do have access to the courts.

"For this commission to make a set of laws or pass an ordinance to try to spell that out, I think, is a big, big mistake because every situation is different and that's why we have a court system."

Schickel acknowledged that an effort to pass a statewide fairness ordinance has failed nearly annually in Frankfort.

"Is it the right thing to do to make a set of laws that apply to certain people and not other people?," the senator asked. "I see it very differently. It's a matter of equality and equal protection under the law, and not some of sort of special protection under the law."

Attorney and Union resident Neal Fairweather disagreed with the senator.

"We are addressing a gap in the law," Fairweather said. "This isn't about making special laws for special groups. This is about fairness. This is about treating everyone the same. It is important to recognize that we are not legislating for this group here or this group over here, we are supplementing a gap in existing law."

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, which advocates for LGBT issues statewide, explained that employment protections are now extended to people who are LGBT through a U.S. Supreme Court decision, and that the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights will now address housing discrimination, but the gap in the law remains in public accommodations.

"A big gap," Hartman said. "That's what is missing from the Supreme Court ruling and from state law as well."

Hartman noted that there are twenty-three communities across Kentucky that have adopted fairness ordinances, including nine in Northern Kentucky. No local government who taken the issue to a vote has ever voted against it, he said.

"I hope and pray that we count Union to be next and city number twenty-four," he said.

"It's a solution in search of a problem," Senator Schickel argued. "I believe that we should have equal laws for everyone but special laws for no one."

Mayor Solomon noted that the city commission in 2020 adopted a resolution supporting equity and equality for all.

"One key point is the city commission reaffirms its commitment to principles and equality and freedom of all people," the mayor said, holding the resolution. "We have addressed that."

The mayor referenced the resolution following comments from Union Presbyterian Reverend Lisa Stenner, who argued in favor of the resolution.

Commissioner Brian Garner, a proponent of the fairness ordinance in Union, noted the difference between a resolution and an ordinance. He said that after he was elected, he attended a training at the Kentucky League of Cities.

"One of the first things KLC covers is resolutions," he said. "You'll learn that resolutions are worthless."

Garner said that Boone County adopted a resolution in favor of gun ownership. "It doesn't do anything except make people feel good," he said. "So there is a clear difference between a resolution and an ordinance."

Further commission comments were to be held until the February meeting when the issue is expected to receive a vote. Commissioner Jeremy Ramage was absent from the meeting.

The five members of the commission, including the mayor, are expected to vote on February 7.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Neil Fairweather talks to Senator John Schickel during Monday night's Union city commission meeting (RCN)