Debate sparks over sexual-orientation bill


FRANKFORT—Supporters say the bill would “guarantee equality” for gay and transgender people while opponents say it would “promote religious intolerance.”

Neither side, however, thinks the bill will pass the General Assembly.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, have filed companion bills in each chamber to prohibit discrimination in housing, public accommodations or employment because of gender identity or sexual orientation.

They appeared before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday to explain the bill and promote its passage, but Judiciary Chairman Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, scheduled the hearing “for discussion only.”

That didn’t prevent an overflow crowd from showing up to hear the discussion. Most of the crowd appeared to support the bill, but there were critics as well, including Kent Ostrander Executive Director of the Family Foundation.

Ostrander had signed up to speak on the bill but when Owens invited him to do so, Ostrander “deferred his remarks.” Later he said Owens had offered supporters 15 minutes to speak while granting him only three and he didn’t think that adequate time to respond.

Later the Family Foundation issued a press release saying Marzian’s House Bill 155 would do little to address the problems of discrimination against gay, lesbian or transgender people but would promote religious intolerance.

“While this bill purports to solve a problem that hardly exists anymore, it will create problems that are already worsening,” said Martin Cothran, spokesman for the group.

But McGarvey called it “a simple bill because we already have laws on the books that say you can’t discriminate against people on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.”

McGarvey said it only “make(s) sense that should include sexual identity.” He said people shouldn’t be denied a place to live or a job or a seat in a restaurant simply because of their sexual identity.

Marzian, who has been in the news for sponsoring a tongue-in-cheek “informed consent” Viagra bill, said her bill would “guarantee equality” for gay, lesbian and transgender people and make Kentucky more progressive and attractive to prospective employers who might be considering re-location.

Bob Rousseau said his company, Peptides International in Louisville, is committed to a diversified workforce and large employers increasingly look for such business personnel policies and government anti-discrimination ordinances.

Western Kentucky University History Professor Dr. Patty Minter told the committee that every Fortune 1000 company in Kentucky supports such legislation and the absence of a state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was leading to “a brain drain” from Kentucky.

“Some of Kentucky’s best and brightest leave their home state for no other reason” than the lack of such anti-discrimination laws, she said.

Even if Owens’ committee takes a vote on the measure it would have a hard time passing the full House in a conservative state during an election year. And McGarvey said it’s improbable the bill will receive a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at


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