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Bexley Council Passes New LGBT Protections

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Bexley Council Passes New LGBT ProtectionsPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Bexley was briefly the center of attention for many followers of the LGBT equality movement earlier this year when a local wedding videographer denied service to an engaged couple because they were gay.

“To hear that it happened in our neighborhood that I know to be a diverse and inclusive neighborhood was an incredibly disappointing thing,” said Deneese Owen, a member of Bexley City Council.

In response to that incident, Owen and the rest of the Council drafted a new anti-discrimination ordinance barring city businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. That ordinance passed at Tuesday night’s Council meeting with six votes of approval and one abstention.

Mayor Ben Kessler said that prior to this ordinance, Bexley did not have any type nondiscrimination law on the books, but had historically used state and federal laws, which do not protect the rights of LGBT people.

“The City Council wanted to send a strong message that Bexley is an equal opportunity city,” said Kessler.

Kessler said he was not aware of any other incidents like the one involving the wedding videographer, though he believed others could be out there which never came to light. Overall, Kessler said Bexley is an inclusive community with a history of tolerance going back to the welcoming of the Jewish population into the city.

The new ordinance will cover all of the currently protected classes under state and federal law, while adding LGBT people among those classes. Owen said the law was written with elements from nondiscrimination ordinances in Columbus and Cincinnati, but tailored specifically for Bexley’s smaller size. Kessler said the ordinance is “fairly lockstep” with Columbus’ own nondiscrimination law, though he considers the penalties to be stricter.

Owen said the ordinance has a fine-based penalty and the fine will escalate with each repeated offense. A first offender will be fined $1,000, a second offense carries a $2,500 fine and three offenses or more will result in a $5,000 penalty. Kessler said he intends to sign the ordinance as soon as a slight clerical change is made.

Kessler said the community conversation about the ordinance was “a pretty positive conversation overall” and that the city has “not had any opposition from the Bexley business community.” Kessler said some residents expressed concern over religious expression and the city tried to address those concerns in a series of meetings.

Likewise, Owen said there were few objections to the ordinance from the Council’s point of view, and that councilmembers heard different perspectives from citizens through emails, phone calls and at public meetings. Owen also said there is more that Bexley city government can do to secure LGBT equality.

“I think that this actually represents a great opportunity for the city to look at all of our policies that could effect folks in the LGBT community,” said Owen.

Bexley is discussing the possibility of extending employee benefits to same-sex couples, but Kessler said the city will likely wait to see what the U.S. Supreme Court decides regarding marriage equality in the coming weeks. Owen noted that marriage and nondiscrimination are separate issues and that even if the Supreme Court decides in favor of marriage equality, people could still be fired for being gay in Ohio.

As such, Owen has drafted a resolution calling on the General Assembly to move forward with LGBT protections at the state level, which she said could be introduced before the City Council in August.

“I’m very excited that this [nondiscrimination ordinance] passed and I would encourage legislators in other communities to consider adopting this legislation,” said Owen.

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