Twenty years after Phoenix shot down a proposal to broadly outlaw discrimination against gay and lesbian residents, city leaders are set to vote on the issue again. Gay-rights leaders are optimistic public opinion has shifted enough over the past two decades that the City Council will support equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents. They point to the 166 cities and counties across the country that already have adopted similar laws. “Things have moved at lightening speed, and Phoenix has not,” said Councilman Tom Simplot, the city’s first openly gay elected leader. “We’re playing catch-up.” Mayor Greg Stanton has fast-tracked reforms to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, which includes those who identify as a different sex than they were born as. The council is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 26. The changes would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels. Today, Phoenix offers few such safeguards for gay people but bans discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and marital status. Phoenix’s current ordinance only prohibits workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians who work for the city or at companies that have city contracts and at least 35 employees. A landlord, for instance, could deny a same-sex couple an apartment because of their orientation, and the couple would have no legal recourse under current city law. However, a landlord could face criminal prosecution for similarly discriminating against a potential tenant because of his or her religion.
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