Phoenix city council voted to expand an anti-discrimination law to include protections for LGBT people in city contracts, housing, employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels
The vote of 5-3 came after over five hours of heated debate on Tuesday evening (26 February), with the majority saying Phoenix would benefit from projecting an image that it welcomes diversity.
Businesses and individuals that don’t comply could be criminally prosecuted and face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $2,500 fine.
Until the measure was passed, Phoenix offered few such safeguards for gay people but did ban discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and marital status.
Some of the city’s longtime gay-rights leaders hugged, reflecting on their victory 21 years after Phoenix leaders shot down a similar proposal.
LGBT advocates said the move was a long time coming.
They said Phoenix, the sixth-largest city in the country, was catching up with at least 166 other U.S. cities and counties that have adopted similar laws.
Mayor Greg Stanton fast-tracked the proposal, which bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
He said: ‘The more we embrace diversity, the better Phoenix will be for business, tourism, high-wage jobs and our future economy.
‘Updating our ordinance is the right thing to do. It’s long past due’.
In addition to adding sexual orientation and gender identity, Tuesday’s vote also added protection based upon ‘disability’ to the city ordinance.
Religious and conservative leaders said the bill is wrong as it would ‘burden’ small businesses and allow transgender men to share public bathrooms with women, slamming the measure as the ‘Bathroom Bill’.
Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy said: ‘This is a significant extension of city policy.
‘We have many questions that go beyond the bathroom issue’.
In response to such ‘concerns’, the council amended the law to clarify that religious groups are exempted, meaning they can exclude gay and transgender residents because of their religious principles.