Council delays vote on sex discrimination legislation

November 24, 2009

Akron City Council will take one more week to allow members to clear up any questions or issues surrounding legislation introduced last week that prohibits the city from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.

Council referred to the Nov. 30 agenda an ordinance which would amend the city code to provide equal opportunity and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Gender identity is defined as the gender with which a person associates him or herself.

Ward 9 Councilman Mike Freeman made the request Monday night for time in order to gain a clearer understanding of all the proposed legislation’s possible legal implications to the city. Citing that the federal government has yet to settle on an official policy with regard to sexual orientation, Freeman said Council should at least give the matter another week’s consideration.

“The federal government has been wrestling with this issue for several years; I ask for time to think through some of the implications for city government,” Freeman said. “Council needs to see what has happened in other communities and some of the implications we had never thought of.”

Council President Marco Sommerville agreed that one week’s time is a reasonable request, but cautioned Council not to allow too much time to pass before passing an ordinance which on its face is about equal opportunity for city employees.

“Asking for one week’s time is a legitimate request,” Sommerville (W-3) said. “Some members have concerns about transgender issues and benefits for same sex partners, but the law now already takes care of the same-sex marriage issue.”

Not wanting to spend more time than necessary on the proposed ordinance, Sommerville urged Council members with concerns to have any questions prepared for next week’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting.

“I see no problem in asking for time,” he said. “However, at some point we have to make a decision one way or another.”

Sommerville co-sponsored the legislation with Mayor Don Plusquellic with the intention of setting a clear city policy on the issue as Summit County and the State of Ohio have done. Other local governments throughout the state have passed similar laws, Sommerville said. In 2007, Gov. Ted Strickland prohibited such discriminatory practices toward state employees.