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Considering fairness

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Editorial: Dec. 9, 2012

ISSUE: Proposed fairness ordinance
OUR VIEW: Proceed with care

Everyone wants to be treated fairly. Every soul deserves fair treatment. It’s virtually unthinkable to take a stand against fairness.

But deciding how to define fairness and how to defend it are more difficult.

Elizabethtown city government has been asked by an organization called the Fairness Coalition to review, consider and adopt its proposed fairness ordinance. The objective is to legally ensure people from all walks of life do not encounter barriers erected by bias or prejudice.

Most of those protections are covered in federal and state laws to guard against discrimination based on matters of race, sex, disability, age, national origin and religious beliefs. The proposed ordinance affirms those objectives but also offers protections related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

At its core, fairness is about giving recognition to the worth and value of individuals. By establishing a nation based on the inalienable rights of each person to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the Declaration of Independence could be considered America’s first fairness ordinance.

While simple in theory, fairness can be complicated in practice. Societal standards and personal opinions have made it difficult for many to find full access to fairness.

American history is full of evidence about our shortcomings in this regard. Mistreatment of immigrants from the Irish and Chinese of the 1800s to Spanish-speaking residents today. Consider attempts to destroy Native American culture and enslavement of blacks. It has occurred in religious circles as a glance at the American story of Catholicism, Judiasm or Islam can attest. Certainly, the Mormon story of a people made outcast by majority opinion attests to our struggles to live up to this high standard.

Discriminatory acts against gay, lesbian and transgender residents of our community occur - just as bias and bigotry still occur among blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims, men and women. We often cannot see past our own experiences and opinions to accept others as they are, whether or not we’re comfortable with who they are.

Fairness is a moral necessity. But moral standards also exist in terms of sexual activity. For some, a matter of personal choice can be seen as a matter of personal repulsion to another. It’s an uncomfortable reality but a very human element of this debate.

Why is this matter even coming before a local city council? Council members typically focus on the more mundane elements of life such as public safety, community planning and placement of stop signs.

It’s a strategic move on the part of the Fairness Coalition, which has been unable to find legislative support for state or national recognition for this effort. With political realities blocking their way, the group has decided to visit city halls. Just as anti-smoking efforts began as a grassroots movement going town by town, this equal treatment measure is finding its way across Kentucky.

In places including Shelbyville, Bowling Green and now E’town, where the organization can muster local residents in support of its idea, the matter comes up for consideration. It’s accompanied by personal stories that define fairness as the opposite of their experiences.

For some communities, this subject will be too hot to handle. Perhaps they will listen politely and attempt to quietly follow the legislative example of inaction.

In any event, careful research is recommended. Often ordinances of this complexity result in the creation of unintended and unforseen issues.

The proposed ordinance itself strives to exempt some extremes of its emphasis on equality. For example, it specifically says the ordinance would not require a business to offer unisex or transgender restrooms and would not prohibit an employer from having a dress code that required people to wear clothing consistent with traditional attire of their biological gender.

In outlining those extremes, it begs the question: What else has not been considered? These ethical tangles should be carefully considered before any ordinance comes to a vote.

Any time protections are extended, the behavior and privileges of others may be changed. Their voices deserve to be heard. Some may object to requirements this ordinance could place on businesses or provisions of it such as empowerment of a Human Rights Commission.

And those who voice objections should be granted the understanding that speaking your mind does not define a person as a “hater” or bigot. Fairness includes showing dignity and respect for people of conflicting views.

History tells us fairness is not simple to achieve. It’s not even easy to define. If it were, the Fairness Coalition’s proposed ordinance would not be 26 pages long.

Elizabethtown City Council is encouraged to read carefully, research thoroughly and move ahead thoughtfully on this measure.

In other words, consider all viewpoints and be fair.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise's editorial board.