Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are now included in the city of Columbus' updated discrimination and housing ordinance.
Action was taken Tuesday night by the Columbus City Council. The changes also add veterans and people over the age of 40 to the list of "protected classes."
Aida Ramirez of the Columbus Human Rights Commission says the ordinance changes are simply meant to extend the civil liberties to more people. She believes there are too many people who do not feel welcome in Columbus and the ordinance change will do much to remedy the situation.
Ramirez says this effort has been 15 years in the making.
“In the year 2000, the Human Rights Commission received a request by community members to talk to City Council and formally request that they add sexual orientation, gender identity and age to the ordinance,” Ramirez says.
Ramirez says churches and other religious institutions have exemptions from this ordinance.
Opponents of the ordinance changes say they are concerned about possible consequences. They say language in the ordinance strips churches of their religious exemption if the church bases membership on sexual orientation or gender identity.
A number of Christians, and others in the community, expressed concerns that preaching the gospel will eventually be referred to as "hate speech" in Columbus, if they express their belief that homosexual activity, and relationships, are wrong.
Ramirez says she’s heard a lot of false information about the ordinance change being brought about as a result of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“This isn’t, in short order, a reaction to RFRA or any of the other things that certainly are happening in the state,” Ramirez says. “This is something that is a 15-year culmination of research by Human Rights Commissioners and the committees formed within the Human Rights Commission.”
Opponents also say it’s a bad idea to allow unelected members of the Civil Rights Commission to have the authority level thousands of dollars in fines against businesses and organizations deemed to be in violation of the ordinance.
Penalties for a first-time offense could result in a fine of up to $10,000. A second offense within five years could result in a $25,000 fine, while a third offense within a seven-year time period could result in a $50,000 dollar penalty.