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Ky. gay rights activists clash over direction of LGBT equality movement

Ky. gay rights activists clash over direction of LGBT equality movement

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Gay rights activists are at odds over the direction of the LGBT equality movement in Kentucky, with some saying the state needs anti-discrimination laws before activists can pursue marriage equality, while others say the time is now for same-sex marriage.

Chris Hartman, head of Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, says efforts to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage are not achievable, and that his group is focused on efforts to pass a non-discrimination law that would protect gays and lesbians from losing their jobs or being denied housing because of their sexual orientation.

“Marriage is on the forefront of many people’s minds, and it’s tough to go to the folks who are excited about relationship recognition and be the person to say, But that’s not where our leaders are,'” said Hartman. “It’s not that it’s ambitious; it’s unrealistic.”

But Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, an openly gay ordained Baptist minister, disagrees.

Blanchard, who was arrested with his partner in January when they refused to leave the Jefferson County clerk’s office after being denied a marriage license, likens his fight to the struggle for black civil rights, and says there is no proper time to demand equality.

“I want the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) person who sees this event to feel affirmed: Faith is not against me and in fact it is the basis for calling for your rights,” Blanchard said.

Both men seek to overturn discrimination against the LGBT community though Hartman, admitting that he is facing long odds, sees greater success through a legislative path — Blanchard says he wants to break down barriers to same-sex marriage with demonstrations and civil disobedience.

In 2004, Kentucky was one of 11 states to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as heterosexual. Since then, national gay rights groups have focused on marriage and, over the last decade, nine states plus the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

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This year, with gay marriage proposals being considered in Illinois, Rhode Island and Minnesota, there has been little talk of a “southern strategy” for Bible Belt states.

But momentum has been building, said Michael Aldridge, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

In January, the tiny Appalachian town of Vicco passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based upon a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Louisville, Lexington and Covington also have nondiscrimination ordinances.

Aldridge said there is no reliable count of how often gays and lesbians are penalized in the state because of their sexual orientation. Last summer, a lesbian couple in Richmond made headlines after being kicked out of a park while taking maternity pictures ahead of the birth of their baby boy.

“No state has ever passed relationship status without first having state-wide nondiscrimination protection, which is why that’s our focus,” Aldridge said. “A lot of people don’t realize that it’s still legal to discriminate.”

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