Sunday, February 8, 2004

We should repeal Article XII


In 1993 Cincinnati amended the city charter to ban any law that would offer specific protections to people based on sexual preference. Article XII of the charter is a mistake because it prohibits doing for one group of citizens what the city might choose to do for others.

This article has tagged the city with the label of discrimination - a label that has unfairly tainted the our community in the eyes and minds of many who have never come here, never met us, never talked with us and probably will never get to know us. When such people think of Cincinnati, they think of the city that has a "special" law about gay people. Cincinnati is, in fact, the only city in America that has such a ban.

Article XII was a reaction to a city human rights ordinance that had passed a year earlier that included homosexuals as a protected class. Protected class status had previously been given for such characteristics as race, religion, gender and national origin. We believe including homosexuals in the human rights ordinance was unnecessary, and removing Article XII does not mean that measure should be reinstated. But Article XII was an overreaction.

It is difficult to point to any case of individual discrimination that has been caused by the enactment of Article XII. There have been few, if any, formal complaints by people who feel they have been denied equal treatment in housing, employment, education or service because Article XII is on the books. But it is not difficult to find cases of people whose reactions to the city have been affected by the law.

"Image is not just symbolic," says Mayor Charlie Luken, who called for a repeal of Article XII in his State of the City speech last week. "If we are portrayed as intolerant it affects our ability to attract all kinds of people that we need in our businesses, our universities, our government. I do believe that has happened. I hear from people all the time who say, 'I have left your city because of its intolerant attitude.'"

This image problem has caused the city significant economic loss, not just in making recruitment and retention more difficult, but in turning off convention groups and other visitors who might otherwise come to Cincinnati. Lisa Haller, director of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, was one of those who stood and applauded the mayor's speech last week. "We need to keep the doors open for business travelers of all races, colors, ethnicities, etc.," she said.

Luken and other proponents of repealing Article XII this year say they are hearing from an increasing number of business leaders who view the issue as bad for business in the city. Those leaders will be expected to back up their concern with financial support for the repeal campaign being headed up by The Citizens to Restore Fairness. That group says it has collected more than the 6,771 signatures needed to place the repeal on the fall ballot.

When Article XII was passed more than a decade ago, its supporters campaigned on a theme of "equal rights, not special rights." The irony is that by enacting the ban, they did just the opposite. Article XII institutionalizes a harsh distinction for one group of citizens. Such a law cannot be viewed as "equal rights." Article XII was a self-inflicted wound on Cincinnati. It should be repealed so that the wound can heal.

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