Gay, transgender rights bill held back by homophobia, politics in House, sponsor says; Democratic, GOP leaders say criticism unfair

02/17/2016 07:06 PM

FRANKFORT — Supporters of a bill that would prohibit the discrimination of homosexual and transgender persons in employment, housing and other areas made their cases for 15 minutes before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but lawmakers did not vote on House Bill 155 in only its second ever information-only hearing.

But in a state that has trended conservative in recent election cycles, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, said the legislation likely won’t get a vote in the House for another few years. Democratic and Republican leaders in the chamber say their caucuses have not whipped votes on such legislation and don’t expect to anytime soon.

Marzian, D-Louisville, also suggested to reporters that homophobia is a key reason that lawmakers don’t want to take up a statewide fairness bill, a point disputed by House Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover.

Those who testified in support of HB 155 said more and more businesses are looking to relocate to states that have codified protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

“If you look at the large companies that often we try to recruit to come into Kentucky to create these high-paying, good jobs for our Kentucky citizens that pay sometimes $70, $80, $90,000-a-year jobs in the industries like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay to help with job creation, with economic development,” Marzian said, noting a number of businesses have enacted similar anti-discriminatory policies. “They are looking at legislation that promotes justice and equality for all of our citizens.”

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat sponsoring a companion bill in Senate Bill 176, called HB 155 “a simple bill” because state law already protects residents from discrimination in housing, employment and other areas based on their race, gender, religion and national origin.

“You wouldn’t want to kick someone out of your restaurant just because they were a certain religion,” he testified. “You wouldn’t want to deny someone housing just because of their race. You wouldn’t want to be able to fire someone in their employment just because of their gender.

“Well if all that’s true, doesn’t it make sense that we include sexual orientation? You shouldn’t be able to fire someone just because they’re gay.”

A similar bill received its first discussion-only hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in 2014.

After the meeting, Marzian told reporters that she asked for the information-only hearing for House Bill 155 because the legislation doesn’t have broad support within the General Assembly.

Regardless of its support now, Marzian says she’s optimistic that the bill will get a vote in the next two or three sessions.

“I don’t know if it’ll pass, but when we banned gay marriage in 2004, which was one of the darkest days of the legislature that I’ve served in, I never thought in 11 years we would have gay marriage equality all across this country,” she said. “So I’m patient. I’m going to keep introducing it, and it will pass one day.”

Marzian said there are political concerns from Democrats on voting for such legislation, but she speculated that homophobia had a role in the lack of movement on a her bill.

While her comments were especially pointed toward the House Republican caucus, majority Democrats weren’t spared from her criticism.

She estimated that 30 of the House Democrats’ 50 members support legislation like HB 155.

“The Republicans are just a bunch of homophobes, basically,” Marzian said, adding that homophobia is “absolutely” a factor with some Democrats.

“By and large I would say almost all of them (Democrats) support it, but they don’t want to vote on it,” she said.

But Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, disputed Marzian’s 30-Democrat estimate, saying that number is actually a bit lower.

He also said a statewide fairness bill likely will not hit the floor in the next few sessions because he has heard minimal discussion on the measure within the Democratic caucus.

Asked his opinion on the subject, Stumbo said he’s “for treating people fairly,” but cities and counties have a way to craft anti-discrimination ordinances. To date, eight cities have passed such measures.

“I haven’t really thought about that much to tell you the truth,” he told reporters.

Stumbo also called Marzian’s accusations of homophobia unfair.

“I don’t know that it’s fair to prejudge people on that issue,” he said.

“I think really you’d have to have a hearing process, you’d have to let people see the legislation, you’d have to have a sounding out of that legislation before you could make that kind of comment. We’ve not had that, to tell you the truth.”

Hoover, a Jamestown Republican who took to the House floor on Wednesday to praise Marzian for standing up for her beliefs in her filing of a bill that would require men seeking Viagra to consult with doctors a second time and swear to use the drug with their spouses, said he was disappointed to hear her accusations of homophobia within the House GOP caucus.

“I think many of us know people, we are related to people, we have folks in our community, we have family members that may be gay or lesbian,” he said, “and for her just to put everyone in the same basket and make that statement is unfair. It’s unbecoming of her.”

“There are legitimate concerns about the issue overall, and I think folks will want to look at the particulars of the bill,” he continued.

Hoover said he “probably” would oppose bills like HB 155, but he added that his caucus had not discussed or counted votes on such legislation “because we know a lot of Democrats are probably opposed to that bill as well.”

“I do think it’s an issue that’s worthy of discussion, and I would welcome that as I would on most issues, to have a debate and have a discussion,” Hoover said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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