County council passes Human Rights Ordinance 6-2

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Tuesday night the Human Rights Ordinance passed through the St. Joe County Council.

But it had a long line of people there to support the ordinance and oppose it who spent just about an hour and a half discussing their views on the bill.

Things got pretty heated, as the focus of the bill went from protecting the rights of all people to narrowing in on the LGBTQ community.

The Human Rights Ordinance is supposed to be a bill that, if passed, offers safety to people in the county of all races, religions, sexes, etc. when it comes to getting access to anything anyone should be able to do like education, work, loans, things like that.

"The Human Rights Commission was unable to hear 1609 cases since 2008 of people wanting to file a complaint because they had felt they had been discriminated against," Sponsor Diana Hess said.

Last night's meeting was standing room only and had plenty of people lined up to talk. Right off the bat, things started to get hot.

"Some of the emotional pain you'll hear about tonight, the emotional pain is real, but the identity is not," Patrick Mangan said. "To promote homosexuality. This bill has nothing to do with anything else...pedophiles are using this type of legislation to get in the restrooms."

Most opponents, like Mr. Mangan, were very concerned the ordinance would give specifically the LGBTQ community a special status.

"I don't want them to have special rights because of who they choose to sleep with," Rhonda Richards said.

Many opponents followed suit with the same type of arguments against the LGBTQ community.

"Those people have been saying the same things for years and years," LGBTQ Executive Director Eli Williams said. "And it hasn't stopped us yet."

Many proponents of the bill responded to the critiques of the opponents.

"You are not saying "I approve." but you are saying that you have basic human rights and that you're entitled to those rights and those rights should be protected," One man said.

Some tried to explain it's not just the LGBTQ community who is affected by the bill.

"This ordinance has sometimes been portrayed as strictly an LGBTQ issue," Williams said. "This is not the case as this ordinance would include many groups and be inclusive of all people."

Neither side has given up just yet. It was passed Tuesday night, but the bill still has one final step with the county commission.

If it passes people outside of south bend, but still in the county will have to talk to the Civil Rights Commission in Indianapolis if they feel they've been discriminated against.

The ordinance doesn't say anything about if or when they would change over to a local commission, but it says St. Joseph County reserves the right to designate another agency to handle cases in the county.

Proponents of the Human Rights Ordinance rejoiced around 11:00 P.M. when the county council voted 6-2 to pass the ordinance.

This ordinance already exists in the city of South Bend, but the new ordinance will enforce it county-wide. The bill essentially says that nobody will be denied anything normally accessible because of their race, religion, gender, etc.

Proponents of the bill took this as the county extending safety and a welcome to anyone and everyone in the county.

Opponents took this to be certain groups, specifically focused on the LGBTQ community, getting special treatment.

"This encompasses a lot of different groups, not just the LGBTQ people," LGBTQ Center Executive Director Eli Williams said. "But we feel very thankful that so many people stood up for us this evening."

The next step for the ordinance is to go through the County Commissioners. If it passes there, anyone who is discriminated against when it comes to education, work, loans, etc. can take up their case by bringing it to the Human Rights Commission in Indianapolis.