MEDINA — Despite some concerns from the Diocese of Cleveland, City Council’s Finance Committee approved legislation on two ordinances that will protect those in the LGBTQ community in the packed multipurpose room of city hall.
Ordinances 717 and 541.08 will come before full Council on July 8 to become law. Ordinance 717 passed 5-2 on Monday, with Ward 1 Councilman Bob Starcher and At-Large Councilman Paul Rose voting against it. Ordinance 541.8 passed 7-0.
After last week’s Special Legislation Committee, City Law Director Greg Huber and the city’s attorneys, Todd Hunt and Ben Chojnacki, of Walter Haverfield, spoke with the Diocese of Cleveland about some changes to the legislation.
“The diocese wanted us to address some of its concerns,” Council President John Coyne said. “The changes that were made were clarifications on the religious exemption in the code that we’re trying to adopt and to clarify what that meant and decide what the First Amendment rights were. They addressed some of those concerns by modifying the language to make it very clear.”
The second issue that was raised dealt with commercial activity in a church. If the church rented out its hall, the diocese wanted to know if it would be subject to the discrimination ordinance.
After changes were made to the legislation, they were emailed to City Council members at 4:23 p.m. — roughly an hour before the start of the finance meeting.
Both Starcher and Rose wanted to postpone Monday’s vote until they had more time to digest the information.
Coyne said there can be more discussion after voting on the ordinances. After the July 8 Council meeting, Council will go on summer vacation for six weeks.
Huber said the legislation is an attempt to balance points of view of the city, diocese and public.
Ordinance 711 deals with discriminatory conduct on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression with the LGBTQ community.
Ordinance 541.08 amended the codified ordinance of the city to prohibit intimidation on the basis of sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.
Starcher said approving the legislation is the right thing to do but felt it needed more discussion.
“No one should be discriminated against in 2019,” he said.
“But is it the right thing to do right now? Twenty other cities have enacted nondiscrimination ordinances.”
He said about 220 other cities have not adopted LBGTQ ordinances.
“We don’t have to do this now,” Starcher said. “We can let the Supreme Court do the heavy lifting for us.”
He said Council would be rushing into the ordinances. Instead it could pass an ordinance that said it supports nondiscrimination rights of the LGBTQ community.
“There are competing interests here,” Coyne said. “Our community is made up of various religions and creeds. Everyone has their own religious beliefs. There’s not one moral compass.”
At-large Councilman Bill Lamb said Council received seven or eight letters from pastors in the last week. One he received today said, “Do the responsible thing.”
Chojnacki said there were concerns by the diocese.
“We found a happy medium we could present to you,” he said. “We wanted to come to a final draft.
“The ordinance should not be interpreted to infringe upon anyone’s free exercise rights protected by the First Amendment. We also carved out a Freedom of Restoration Act, a federal law that interferes with someone’s right to exercise their religion.”
Kevin Burke, general counsel for the diocese, tried to slow down the vote since the church just got involved in the matter.
“The Catholic church is against discrimination,” he said. “You have the opportunity to dialogue with us. We’ve come in last minute.
“We’re asking the city here, if you’re really concerned about tolerance and diversity, let’s make sure we don’t pass a law that in trying to accomplish those ends, actually opens the door to discrimination against certain faith traditions.”