Testimony of Letitia Harmon, Policy Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas
The ACLU of Kansas Supports AMENDING CHAPTER 35 OF THE CODE OF ORDINANCES
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas, a membership organization dedicated to preserving and strengthening the constitutional liberties afforded to every resident of Kansas, supports the proposed non-discrimination ordinance for the city of Merriam. All residents of Merriam should be protected from discrimination in employment, public accommodation, and housing. This amendment of chapter 35 prohibits discrimination that is based simply on sexual orientation and gender identity.
We fully affirm the efforts of the City of Merriam to be a welcoming place that protects freedom for all. The ACLU is in favor of all the changes proposed, with the exception of Section 5j, which states “Each party is to bear their own attorneys’ fees, if any.” This stipulation would prove burdensome to those who are low-income, and would discourage people from seeking justice. We suggest that the council amend this sub-section so that attorneys’ fees are covered by the non-prevailing party, in order to make fairness and just treatment accessible to all.
All hardworking people should be treated equally under the law. When it comes to being able to earn a living or find a place to live, all Kansans should have that right. Although Kansas law currently provides that protection to many people and groups, it excludes Kansans who are gay or transgender. In the absence of state action on this issue, the city of Merriam has the legal right to stand up for our shared American values and ensure that all residents of Merriam have access to the same opportunities, and are protected from discrimination.
This type of ordinance creates an equal playing field for employment, housing, and public accommodation. It is the same tool legislatures have used for decades to ensure equal treatment of certain groups of citizens who have historically been treated unequally. This would protect all people, gay or straight, man or woman or non-binary, from unfair treatment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Prohibiting discrimination ensures every person is unafraid and can find a place to live, receive a fair wage, and be themselves in public. This will reduce homelessness and joblessness, benefiting everyone in the community. Beyond that, it is simply the right thing to do. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to existing non-discrimination laws ensure that LGBTQ people receive the same protections as other minority groups. That is consistent with America’s guiding principle to allow freedom and equality to all.
On behalf of the ACLU of Kansas, we strongly urge you to move your city in the direction of equality and pass this non-discrimination ordinance.