Heritage’s Response to Anti-LGBT Ordinance Issue 3, 1993

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

On the ballot of the November 1993 election in the city of Cincinnati was Issue 3, which if passed would have prohibited the city from giving legal protection against discrimination to gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church, even though not in the city, decided to make its opinions on Issue 3 known to the general public.

On October 10, the congregation ended its regular worship service by wrapping the entire church in a gigantic ribbon. Sharon Hall, one of the organizers of the effort stated, “This is our way of calling attention to the legalized discrimination that would result with the passage of Issue 3 in the city of Cincinnati.” At the wrapping ceremony, Loren Curtis, president of the church’s Board of Trustees, declared the church a human rights zone “where the rights of everyone are respected and the uniqueness of every individual is not only accepted but celebrated.”

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support the effort, and Pat Mastin stated that “In the same way our church land has provided physical sustenance for all plants and animals who sought it for millions of years, we must offer spiritual sustenance to all who need it, without regard to race, age, gender, origin or sexual orientation.” To further express its support, the church erected a large sign that stated “Vote No Never Again On Issue 3.” In the ensuing November election, the city passed Issue 3 becoming the only city in the United States to pass such a law.

Several states, however, passed laws very similar if not identical to the Cincinnati law. Numerous court appeals were filed and the Colorado law, which was almost identical to Cincinnati’s, came before the United States Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the court overturned the Colorado law as unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that “the amendment imposes a special disability upon these persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint.” Justices Stevens, O’Connor, Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer also sided with the majority.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the dissent that the amendment was “a modest attempt by seemingly tolerant Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority to revise those mores through use of the laws.” Justices Rehnquist and Thomas voted with the dissent. Attempts to overturn the Cincinnati law based upon the Supreme Court Colorado decision were thwarted by lower court rulings, which decided that Cincinnati was a municipality and not covered by rulings governing a state’s action. The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Cincinnati case on appeal.

The law was criticized as a stumbling block to the city’s attempt to win the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. It was also estimated that the city lost between 60 million and 70 million dollars in potential revenue due to convention cancellations from groups offended by the law. Finally, in 2004, a repeal of the law was placed on the ballot and that repeal won – eleven years after our church was decorated with a ribbon and a message.