More cities across Indiana are working toward adopting local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after a push for statewide protections failed in the General Assembly last month.
In Kokomo, the city council voted 5-4 last week to give initial approval of a proposed ordinance after more than an hour of debate. In northwestern Indiana, Munster could have similar rules adopted next month, while an Evansville city commission has been given more authority to investigate and enforce its local anti-bias law.
An audience packed the Kokomo council’s meeting room, with opponents saying they feared the ordinance’s exemptions for religious organizations could be eliminated in the future and that it would allow men claiming to be transgender to enter public women’s restrooms.
Supporters argued other cities around Indiana with similar ordinances haven’t had such problems and that the protections could help Kokomo attract businesses.
The Kokomo proposal would also add anti-discrimination protections related to a person’s marital status, age or veteran status, the Kokomo Tribune reported. The current city ordinance covers race, religion, gender, familial status, disability, national origin and ancestry.
“I believe it gives the city an economic advantage from other cities who have not taken this step to make sure everyone is welcome,” supporter Chuck Sosbe of Kokomo told WTHR-TV. “Hopefully that will bring more jobs and more businesses.”
Charles Riley, pastor of Abundant Life Church, said he worried about churches and religious organizations being covered by the ordinance in the future, saying “the exemption process cannot hold water.”
The Kokomo ordinance, which was proposed by Democratic Mayor Greg Goodnight, could get final council approval on March 14.