News: Fairer Sex

City might not want gay rights, but it wants gays' money

Dec 31, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

The Rev. Steven Van Kuiken lost his job for marrying gays and lesbians, but Cincinnati otherwise saw forward momentum in the struggle for equal rights.

Like the zit that just never heals, Cincinnati still has Article 12, the charter amendment prohibiting anti-discrimination legislation based on sexual orientation. This makes Cincinnati the only city in the country to officially condone discrimination.

Volunteers with the grassroots organization Citizens to Restore Fairness (CRF) spent much of 2003 going door-to-door, educating Cincinnatians and circulating petitions to put repeal of Article 12 in front of voters (see Porkopolis, issue of Jan. 22-28). During the special election for a school tax levy last spring and in the city council election last month, CRF stumped and collected signatures at most of the city's polling locations.

Activists are confident they'll have enough signatures to put repeal of the amendment on the November 2004 ballot; they've bided their time in hopes that a greater voter turnout for the presidential election will increase chances for repeal.

Though most city council members say they favor its repeal, none has yet introduced a motion to place the measure on the ballot.

Progressive P&G?
Business is starting to get the message, though. Sources widespread as Toronto's daily paper and a national magazine this year wrote about conservative Procter & Gamble's efforts to repeal Article 12.

"There is a growing sense among Cincinnati's business leaders that the city's reputation for hostility towards gays and lesbians is taking an economic toll on the region and its ability to attract a top-quality workforce," wrote Christopher Swope in the October issue of Governing.

Change comes slowly. Regional carrier Comair still doesn't offer domestic partner benefits or have a policy forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation — even though its parent company, Delta Airlines, does (see Unfriendly Skies? issue of Nov. 25).

Members of Comair's Gay and Lesbian Employee Network (GALEN) have entertained, as a last resort, calling for a boycott of the airline. For now they focus on convincing Comair of the public relations bonanza and gay, lesbian and progressive dollars the company stands to gain by becoming "gay-friendly."

Money has the power to sway opinions and change policies, and it's perhaps in this arena that Richard Florida's ideas should have had the most local impact. In his popular book, The Rise of the Creative Class, he equates a region's economic health to its tolerance of gays. Acceptance of gays indicates openness to different people and ideas, he says.

Tolerance is one of what Florida calls the "three Ts" of economic development: technology, talent and tolerance. He holds that a region needs all three to lure the creative class necessary for growth.

Covington's leaders must know a good deal when they see one (and have hearts besides), because in April a coalition of activists, officials and business leaders convinced city commissioners to pass a new human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things. The unanimous vote was met with a standing ovation (see Signatures of the Times, issue of June 25-July 1).

Anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps' cosmic mandate — he's infamous for preaching, "God hates fags"— was called into question when a snowed-in plane prevented him from picketing a February hearing on the proposed ordinance.

Lock up the goats
In chambers on the other side of the river, things move more slowly, but they are moving.

In February, Cincinnati City Council expanded the city's hate crime ordinance to include sexual orientation, age, disability and gender.

That revision recently survived a challenge from newly elected Republican City Councilman Sam Malone, State Rep. Thomas Brinkman (R-Cincinnati) and Mark Miller of the organization Citizens for Community Values — the group largely responsible for hoodwinking voters into passing Article 12 in the first place, convincing them anti-discrimination legislation meant special, not equal, treatment, for gays.

Malone, Brinkman and Miller sued the city, asking that the hate crimes ordinance be overturned because it violates Article 12. Councilman John Cranley pointed out that, under the hate crimes ordinance, the special treatment is given not to gays but to those who commit crimes against them, adding stiffer penalties for crimes motivated by homophobia.

Regardless, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the lawsuit, saying the ordinance has yet to be used and the court can't issue an advisory opinion.

Alarmists can't seem to decide if they're defending the country's morals or the benefits and pension plans into which gay employees pay just like their heterosexual counterparts.

Instead of "defense of marriage" acts, some activists call proposed legislation "denial of benefits" acts.

Efforts to oust the Rev. Steven Van Kuiken as pastor of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church succeeded on the second try (see After the Mourning, issue of Aug. 20-26). Van Kuiken got off with a warning not to conduct any more marriages of gays and lesbians. But he refused to comply, and the denomination removed him from the Presbyterian ministry.

Nationally, the Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop this year and the Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered the commonwealth to legalize gay marriage.

Horrified conservatives, predicting lawless goat rutting, are gathering their forces. President Bush, running for election, recently announced he could support an amendment to the Constitution limiting marriage to unions between men and women.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed a "defense of marriage" bill in its last session of 2003. A companion bill in the Ohio Senate waits assignment to committee.

It will be interesting to see if next year Cincinnati manages to rid itself of Article 12, finally acknowledging the humanity of gays and lesbians, just in time to see the nation deny them marriage. ©