WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — A new anti-discrimination law in Westerville may face a challenge from the Ohio Christian Alliance.
The ordinance approved by Westerville City Council Nov. 19 establishes a ban on discriminating against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identification in housing, employment, and public accommodation.
Councilmember Valerie Cumming said there was overwhelming public support for the measure.
“We wouldn’t have done this if our community wasn’t asking for it and wasn’t indicating support for it,” Cumming said. “I can’t go a day without somebody coming up to me and thanking me personally for what this ordinance means to them or a family member.”
In a news release, the Ohio Christian Alliance, which has opposed similar measures in other Ohio communities, said it is considering a referendum to overturn the law:
“A number of people in the community were not even aware that Council was moving forward with this comprehensive special rights ordinance. Some residents questioned the timing, as the opportunity to launch a referendum effort would be difficult given the holiday calendar. Nevertheless, concerned citizens in the City of Westerville are moving forward in response to the actions by City Council.”
The Ohio Christian Alliance expressed specific concerns about how the ordinance could impact the use of bathrooms:
“This newly passed ordinance will allow members of the opposite sex to use the bathrooms of their choice in public venues. Faith organizations are not exempt. If they rent their facilities for wedding receptions and public functions, they could be in violation of this newly passed ordinance.”
But Cumming said the bathroom concerns are a non-issue.
“Nothing is going to change,” Cumming said. “As it stands right now, we’re not checking birth certificates at bathroom doors, so I don’t understand what would be different and if someone is a predator in a restroom, obviously, they’d be arrested regardless of their gender identity.”
AJ Casey, executive director of Stonewall Columbus, said the lack of a state law protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination is prompting more and more local municipalities to adopt local ordinances.
“If people are identified as LGBTQ on the job, they can be fired without any legal recourse to get their job back,” Casey said. “The same thing in housing. When it’s not explicitly spelled out, then people can use that lack of specificity to get rid of people that they disagree with.”
“Really, truly, this ordinance is about granting rights of humanity and dignity and equal treatment under the law,” Casey said. “And it is about so much more than fear and bathrooms – it’s about human dignity.”
Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance, said the organization is prepared to assist local citizens who are concerned about the Westerville ordinance.
“The people of Westerville have several ways that they can challenge this newly passed ordinance – a referendum effort to overturn the ordinance by placing it on the ballot, a lawsuit that would challenge the new ordinance that it violates the rights of privacy, and also the local citizens could consider a charter amendment. All of these options are being considered.”