Carmel City Council passes anti-discrimination ordinance

Carmel City Council approved a human rights ordinance with a 4-3 vote Monday night after hearing about two hours of divided public testimony.

The ordinance bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, among other traits. Council members Rick Sharp, Carol Schleif, Sue Finkam and Ron Carter voted in favor of it.

The three council members opposing it—Luci Snyder, Kevin Rider and Eric Seidensticker—all said they were against any form of discrimination, but had issues with the wording and possible unintended consequences of the proposal.

“Carmel is not intolerant. It never has been,” Seidensticker said. “A few idiots here and there? Sure, we’ve got ‘em.”

Rider mentioned he had wanted to add exceptions to the ordinance that would have protected anyone from having to conduct off-premise services or being forced to create a custom product.

“It’s not a flawed concept. It’s flawed legislation,” Rider said. “We don’t need legislation to justify what’s right.”

In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, the ordinance prohibits discrimination based on a person’s race, color, national origin, gender, disability, family or marital status, ancestry, age or veteran status.

It applies to businesses, housing, public accommodations, education, employment, contracts, programs, services and amenities. Exemptions include religious entities or clergy engaged in religious activities, not-for-profit memberships organized exclusively for religious purposes or not open to the general public, and private residences or gatherings. Maintenance of separate restrooms or dressing rooms will not be required.

The council finance committee moved the ordinance to the full council after meeting Thursday and finalizing several amendments.

The changes, which the full council approved Monday, allow the first violation to result in a warning. The city attorney will have the responsibility and discretion to determine whether to issue a citation after a complaint is submitted.

The council clarified that the first offense can be a warning, but it does not necessarily have to be. Any following violations could result in a $500-per-day fine.

Many supporters at Monday night’s meeting talked about sending a message in response to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the General Assembly approved earlier this year, and argued that discrimination is occurring, even if it’s not frequently made public.

“What message do you want to send?” said Steve Ehrlich, president of Carmel-based PolicyStat. “It’s disingenuous to say discrimination can't happen here.”

Representatives from multiple technology companies, such as NextGear Capital and ExactTarget, also spoke in favor of the ordinance along with former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle, who recently started LGBT rights advocacy group Tech for Equality.

Those who opposed the ordinance countered that it would discriminate against those with strongly held religious beliefs and that it was an unnecessary measure.

“Indiana’s economy is not broken. Carmel’s economy is not broken,” Curt Smith, president of Indiana Family Institute, said. “RFRA did not break our economy.”

The council also unanimously approved a “unity resolution” declaring that the city does not tolerate discrimination after approving the ordinance. Several of those who spoke in opposition to the ordinance mentioned their support for the resolution.

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