ACLU and U.S. Dept. of Justice Ask Court to Dismiss Challenge to Anti-Gay Bias Law, Noting Broad Impact

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
August 15, 2000 12:00 am

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ACLU of Kentucky
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LOUISVILLE, KY — In what has become the national focal point of the debate over whether personal religious beliefs trump local civil rights laws, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked a state court to dismiss a challenge to Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance – and for the first time in history, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped forward to lend its support to a law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Representing a broad coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people – as well as their families and allies – the ACLU today told a state court that there is no merit to a lawsuit filed by Dr. J. Barrett Hyman, a Louisville gynecologist who claims his religious beliefs compel him to engage in job discrimination. Hyman’s lawsuit seeks to overturn the nondiscrimination law.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief today affirming the ACLU’s position, marking the first time the federal government has actively supported a local law barring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. In its brief, the Department of Justice noted that if Hyman’s lawsuit were successful, it could jeopardize the basic civil rights of a broad range of Americans – including people of color, women and disabled people.

“This case is about equality for all Americans,” said Michael Adams, Associate Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Reasonable provisions were made to ensure that these ordinances protect religious liberties. This case uses religious freedom as a smokescreen for discrimination.”

Today’s developments come during a watershed time for local nondiscrimination laws, Adams said. In recent days, a federal court of appeals struck down a lawsuit in Alaska, where a landlord claimed that his religion prohibited him from renting to unmarried couples. Last week, anti-gay groups failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for ballot initiatives repealing similar laws in four Michigan cities.

Last Friday, a legal challenge to the city nondiscrimination law in Henderson, Kentucky, was dismissed when it was revealed that the plaintiffs in the case knew very little about the ordinance, and that it did not apply to them. That lawsuit was nearly identical to the one in Louisville, and Hyman’s attorney was also representing the former plaintiffs in Henderson.

“These recent developments should leave no question that whether they’re challenged at the ballot box or in the courtroom, these ordinances will prevail because they ensure basic fairness,” Adams said.

The legal documents in the case can be found at http://archive.aclu.org/court/ACLUHyman.html and http://archive.aclu.org/court/DoJHyman.html.

A list of states and localities that have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity is available at http://archive.aclu.org/issues/gay/pedreira_laws.html.

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