VALPARAISO — The City Council on Monday in a 5-2 vote adopted a human rights ordinance.

The ordinance was drafted by the city’s Advisory Human Relations Council with public input and outlines a policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, veteran status and familial status.

One of the no votes came from Councilman Matt Murphy, R-3rd, who disagreed with the removal of an exemption in the ordinance.

The exemption stated that a business with 10 or fewer employees that provides services of a personal nature is exempt from the ordinance if compliance would violate the owner’s “deeply held religious belief.”

Murphy, who said he agrees the ordinance is a protection against discrimination of the LGBT community, wanted to have the exemption added back in.

Councilwoman Trista Hudson, R-at large, also voted against the ordinance, saying she had concerns with the ordinance’s Investigation and Reconciliation Committee, which will work to bring parties together through mediation or other dispute resolution. Discrimination complaints must be filed within 60 days of the incident and include enough detail for an investigation to be conducted by the city attorney. The IR Committee will review the findings and determine whether there is “clear and convincing” evidence of a violation. If a violation is found, the committee has the option of assessing violators a fine in an amount not to exceed $500.

Hudson said “no discrimination is proper,” but with the open door involvement of the IR and it being a potential arm of the city government she is concerned it will stifle a potential complaint.

“I believe an arbitration process would better serve the parties involved,” she said.

Mayor Jon Costas didn’t have a vote on the ordinance but expressed his support for it in front of a council chambers packed with residents.

“Members of the LGBT community are our neighbors, our co-workers, our family members and family citizens and why would we want to deny them basic civil protections,” he said.

Heath Carter, chair of the Advisory Human Relations Council, said he is delighted the City Council adopted this local human rights ordinance, which extends vital civil rights protections and makes them readily accessible to Valparaiso’s citizens.

“I am extremely proud of our city,” he said. “It has been remarkable, throughout this process, to see neighbors of many different persuasions treat one another with such respect and care. Valparaiso continues to set a high bar when it comes to civility and civic engagement.”

Council members John Bowker, R-5th; Diana Reed, D-1st; Lenore Hoffman, R-4th; Robert Cotton, D-2nd, and Deb Porter, D-at large, all voted in favor of the ordinance.

To read the ordinance, go to valpo.us and search “Human Rights Ordinance.”


Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.