If Louisville voters have reasons to hesitate in supporting Republican mayoral candidate and Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, this November, his opposition to the Fairness ordinance could be chief among them.
Following a decade of heated protests and high-profile discrimination incidents, the Louisville Board of Alderman passed a historic city bill prohibiting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in 1999.
When city and county governments merged in 2003, the local debate briefly reignited before the newly formed Metro Council reauthorized the legislation as part of Metro government’s new civil rights code.
The bipartisan 19-6 vote reapproved Fairness, but not without consistent objection from Heiner, who voted against the ordinance.
Over the course of a three-hour council meeting, he argued at one point there had been few reported cases of discrimination against LGBT residents since 1999 and questioned whether those incidents justified a new law.
“There’s one case of discrimination per year; is that enough to (merit) this ordinance? That’s the central question,” Heiner said in 2004. “… We’re trying to penalize here based on thought
Since the mayoral candidates began campaigning for the general election, the Heiner camp has actively courted Democratic and independent voters. In the process, Heiner has made it clear he would not seek to repeal the law and would enforce the ordinance as mayor.
When asked why he opposed the legislation six years ago, the east Louisville Republican echoes his previous talking points, cloaking his comments in a “small government” argument.
“I’m against discrimination in any form, both in my private life, with businesses in this community, and in government,” Heiner says. “But based on my research, federal law already covered that protection under sex, (which) covers us all equally regardless of orientation. I felt it was covered by federal law, and I’m a less government, less regulation person.”
In reality, federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the private sector; the law protects people from discrimination based on race, national origin, age, sex and disability.
Hearing that misleading argument coming from a mayoral candidate more than a decade after the Fairness ordinance passed is a step in the wrong direction, says Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, the city’s chief gay rights organization. It’s an argument anti-gay groups across the country often use in opposing local and state civil rights protections for LGBT residents.
“Councilman Heiner stated that current federal protections apply in the case of sexual orientation and gender identity, which is an irresponsible lie,” Hartman says. “And the fact that someone seeking our highest civic office would perpetuate that sort of lie should preclude him from ever serving in any role of authority in our city.”
The agenda from the council’s December 2004 meeting also shows that before ultimately voting against the ordinance, Heiner joined a slim minority that consistently attempted to scale back the law in various ways.
During the contentious debate, Heiner voted in favor of excluding language protecting LGBT individuals in the code, exempting the Boy Scouts of America from having to abide by the law, applying it to larger businesses only, calling for a local referendum on gay rights, and delaying its passage altogether.
Since Heiner announced his candidacy, there have been growing concerns about his socially conservative views in the LGBT community and among local gay rights leaders. Recent revelations about Heiner’s past political contributions have further fueled that criticism.
In August 2004, prior to resisting the Fairness ordinance on the council, Heiner made a $20,000 contribution to the “Vote Yes for Marriage Committee,” which supported the statewide referendum banning same-sex marriage in Kentucky’s constitution. The hefty check from Heiner, a real estate developer, exceeded the amount given by The Family Foundation of Kentucky, a conservative lobbying group that supported the amendment.
“As mayor I will not be contributing to public issue campaigns. I am running to provide better services to this community and to be a mayor for all people in this city,” Heiner says. “I believe in traditional marriage. Somebody asked me for a donation, and I gave it to them. That was the extent of my involvement.”
In a city where registered Republican voters are outnumbered two-to-one, courting Democrats and independents is critical in the GOP’s efforts to elect their first Louisville mayor in four decades. As a result, the Heiner campaign is actively canvassing in heavily Democratic precincts. In addition, the candidate’s open-minded stance on the Ohio River Bridges Project has proven helpful in swaying some liberal voters who are staunchly opposed to the massive public works project, which includes building two new bridges and realigning Spaghetti Junction.
However, the city lawmaker’s socially conservative views could be hard to overlook. It’s no secret that Heiner’s opponent, Democrat Greg Fischer, has launched a poll asking voters (and reminding them
in the process) about Heiner’s anti-Fairness vote.
For gay rights groups especially, that contrast could trump other local issues in the mayoral race, and it’s more than enough to disqualify Heiner from consideration.
“The city cannot possibly choose someone to lead us in the 21st century who has no clue how to protect its citizens,” Hartman says. “Councilman Heiner has taken a bold stance against Fairness, and I think he’s going to have a tough road to overcome that.”
Or maybe not: A recent poll commissioned by WHAS and The Courier-Journal reveals Fischer and Heiner are tied at 45 percent with three months left in