MACON, Ga. (AP) — A middle Georgia county has approved an anti-discrimination ordinance that would govern businesses, despite opposition from some.
Macon-Bibb commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of the proposal on Tuesday, sending it to Mayor Robert Reichert for his signature or veto, news outlets reported.
“This is just a stepping block to making sure Macon is a place where people can live freely, work freely, and indulge in some sort of commerce without free or retribution,” said supporter DeMarcus Beckham. “It’s what our community needs. Our community needs equality now, and needs equality tomorrow, and it needs equality forever.”
The ordinance would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity or military status. Under the ordinance, businesses could not discriminate by withholding any goods, services or accommodations.
The ordinance would allow people who felt they have been discriminated against to complain to the city-county government within 60 days, which would appoint a mediator. Any claims not settled in mediation would go to a hearing officer. Any business found to have been discriminating could be fined up to $500.
Supporters say a local process would be easier, faster and cheaper to use than pursuing federal civil rights lawsuits or employment discrimination complaints. Atlanta, Savannah and other Georgia municipalities already have similar ordinances in place.
The rules wouldn’t apply to private schools or any government agencies including public schools. Many of the sharpest disputes over transgender protections have centered on school bathrooms nationwide. Opponents focused on that in Macon, as well as on the larger issue of forcing people to respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights when they oppose such behavior on religious grounds.
“In fact, this ordinance takes away the business owners’ freedom to practice religion, and instead coerces many Christian and Jewish faith-based people in our county to accept the LGBTQ lifestyle as one of their moral beliefs,” said former mayoral candidate Blake Sullivan.
Commissioner Valerie Wynn said many people had contacted her to oppose the ordinance. “It seems to be reverse discrimination against women and children, and the rights of these people that want other things besides this,” she said. “Why are we worrying this community about doing this? We have so many other things to worry about.”
But supporters said those who are worried about transgender intrusions in the bathroom were focusing on the wrong thing.
“Transgender individuals are beaten, discriminated and have acts of violence against them at an alarming rate,” Commissioner Virgil Watkins said. “When we talk about murders and suicides and acts of violence, those are the folks that need protection right now.”
Macon would be the 12th city in Georgia to pass this type of ordinance and the first county.