By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DOWNTOWN - Ten years ago, supporters of a Cincinnati charter amendment now known as Article XII painted gay-rights activists as a minority interest group seeking "special rights" for gays and lesbians.
Launching their effort Monday to repeal Article XII, members of a group calling itself the Committee to Restore Fairness said this time they won't allow their opponents to frame the issue.
Gary Wright, chairman of the Citizens to Restore Fairness movement, speaks at a press conference to launch the repeal of Article XII.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
"Article XII is really about discrimination," committee Chairman Gary Wright said. "We have the time and the people to explain that to the voters of Cincinnati."
The committee announced Monday that it had collected 13,000 petitions - almost twice the 6,771 needed - to put the charter amendment back on the ballot.
Article XII prohibits "minority or protected status, quota preference or other preferential treatment" based on sexual orientation.
Monday's announcement was less about campaign logistics than it was an attempt to put a diverse face on the issue.
The carefully orchestrated news conference included its own built-in applause section of more than 50 business, civic, political and religious leaders at the Christ Church Cathedral downtown.
"I would like to announce that legal discrimination against gays and lesbians will end Nov. 2," said former U.S. Attorney Sharon J. Zealey, prompting the first of many interruptions for applause.
Port Authority Chairman Jack Rouse and Carthage pastor Damon Lynch Jr. gave speeches denouncing the charter amendment. Rabbi Robert Barr of Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland gave a benediction, calling Article XII "a repugnant doctrine."
In attendance was Mayor Charlie Luken, who used his State of the City Address last week to urge Article XII's repeal. The crowd also included four past and present City Council members, downtown business leaders and a cross-section of religious leaders.
But supporters of Article XII said attempts to persuade Cincinnatians with a who's who of civic leaders won't work.
"Back in '93 there were a number of groups that came out against Issue 3," said Rev. K. Z. Smith of Corinthian Baptist Church in Avondale, referring to the charter amendment's former ballot position. "The bottom line is that the voters came out in support of it more than 60 percent. Those same numbers exist today."
The 1993 charter amendment was a backlash to City Council's passage of a gay rights ordinance in 1992.
"This is a campaign about just how much Cincinnati has changed since 1993," said Wright, a Procter & Gamble executive. "A law that bars the doors of City Hall to one - and only one - group of people is wrong."
Wright said the 13,000 petitions collected door-to-door since last April - plus the 2,000 volunteers and $199,620 in cash and in-kind contributions - demonstrate that the movement is gaining strength.
The campaign is also using a new argument it couldn't make in 1993: a decade of having Article XII on the books has tarnished Cincinnati's national image and makes it more difficult for businesses to recruit young professionals to the city.
"The global landscape is littered with the ruins of intolerant societies. I would just as soon not have Cincinnati as part of that landscape," said Rouse, CEO of Jack Rouse Associates, an attractions-planning company.
"I don't want to just repeal Article XII," Rouse said. "I want to repeal it with such a strong, overwhelming majority that it sends a message to the rest of the world."
Smith said supporters of the repeal effort have the wrong solution.
"Cincinnati's image problem is not based on gay rights. It's based on a racial divide and problems with the police," he said. "I have yet to hear anyone say. 'I'm not coming to Cincinnati because you have a problem with gay rights.'"
What Article XII says
"The City of Cincinnati and its various boards and commissions may not enact, adopt, enforce or administer any ordinance, regulation, rule or policy which provides that homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, status, conduct, or relationship constitutes, entitles, or otherwise provides a person with the basis to have any claim of minority or protected status, quota preference or other preferential treatment. This provision of the City Charter shall in all respects be self-executing.
"Any ordinance, regulation, rule or policy enacted before this amendment is adopted that violates the foregoing prohibition shall be null and void and of no force or effect.''
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