Metro Council may consider discrimination ban again

The Metro Council could consider an ordinance Wednesday aimed at protecting gay and lesbian residents from housing and employment discrimination.

The proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, which would bar unequal treatment based on race, religion or gender, comes two weeks after the Metro Council overwhelmingly voted against a resolution in support of state legislation to repeal the state’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy laws.

Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who placed the nondiscrimination proposal on this week’s agenda, was unavailable to comment Tuesday because of travel.

However, she said last week that she planned to pursue the ordinance, despite the failure of the largely symbolic resolution earlier this month.

“It’s just something we need to look at, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to attach some teeth to it,” she said.

Because the item is slated as an administrative matter, a discussion on Marcelle’s proposal could be delayed until a meeting next month if any council member objects to hearing it this week.

Some council members on Tuesday said they expected that it would be delayed.

“You only need one objection, so I’m not sure if it will be heard or not,” Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe said.

He said he supported the idea of a local nondiscrimination ordinance but had not yet seen Marcelle’s proposal.

Baton Rouge leaders have for years debated the merits of adopting a parishwide policy of discouraging discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Mayor-President Kip Holden has, through executive order, placed protections for public employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and has garnered praise from LGBT advocacy groups, but those protections aren’t set in law and would have to be reauthorized by any future mayor.

In November, Baton Rouge was cited by the Human Rights Campaign for its lack of gay-friendly policies.

“We want to show that we are an open and progressive city, and I think this would be a solid step in the right direction,” said Councilman John Delgado, who supports a nondiscrimination ordinance.

He said he wasn’t yet familiar with the specifics of Marcelle’s proposal but added, “I think we do have a responsibility to offer to our citizens protection from discrimination, particularly those who have no protections in state and federal law.”

Dave Samuels, of the Capital City Alliance, a gay rights advocacy group, said his organization has heard from people who want a nondiscrimination ordinance in Baton Rouge.

“There’s a strong feeling that people shouldn’t be discriminated against in housing, public accommodations and employment,” he said.

“To move Baton Rouge forward, we have to be in line with what the people want.”

Marcelle’s bill isn’t exactly what CCA has pushed: It doesn’t extend to transgender residents because “gender identity” isn’t covered, and it doesn’t bar discrimination from “public accommodations” such as restaurants, doctor’s offices and other businesses typically open to the general public.

“We’re supportive of her initiative, but we also recognize that there may still be some long-term community-building to gain support for a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance,” Samuels said. “Still, I think it signals that the community is thinking about this issue.”

A nonbinding resolution dubbed “One Baton Rouge” that would have expressed tolerance of all “colors, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities and people of all walks of life” has never garnered enough support for passage.

The Metro Council rejected the resolution in 2007, and it was withdrawn for lack of support in 2010 after it came under fire from religious and conservative groups.

“One Baton Rouge was just a resolution and didn’t do anything and didn’t have any teeth,” Marcelle has said of her decision to pursue an ordinance, which holds the weight of a law, instead of a nonbinding resolution.

Under her proposal, a newly created East Baton Rouge Parish Human Relations Commission would be tasked with enforcing the ordinance.

“I would hope the citizens of Baton Rouge would not wish that anyone would be discriminated against — whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, black, white, Hispanic, Vietnamese or what have you,” Marcelle said. “I just think it’s a no-brainer. I don’t know who would stand up in favor of discriminating against any particular person or group of people”

The ordinance would provide exemptions for businesses with fewer than eight employees, as well as religious organizations and charitable organizations, which Samuels said is common among ordinances in other cities.

Delgado said he would like to have more time to review Marcelle’s proposal and compare it to other cities. He said he’s unsure how the measure will fare on the council — whether it comes to a vote this week or next month.

“I don’t know if the council as a whole will support this, but I would like to think that it would. We’re talking about not discriminating, so what’s the option?” Delgado said. “I don’t know how anyone on the council could look in the faces of their constituents and say that discriminating against people is OK.”