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Cuyahoga County Council passes LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance

The new measure will apply to all 58 Cuyahoga cities and townships and will make it illegal for any business to discriminate against any person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

CLEVELAND -- Cuyahoga County Council passed a LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance on Tuesday night.

The new measure will apply to all 58 Cuyahoga cities and townships and will make it illegal for any business to discriminate against any person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ordinance, co-sponsored by County Executive Armond Budish, is an addition to already existing protections for other groups (such as race or religion) already covered by state law. A "Commission on Human Rights" would also be set up to promote " diversity, inclusion, and harmony" in the area. The commission will hear, investigate, and rule on complaints. It can also level civil fines against ordinance violators.

While the ordinance does not specifically mention transgender access to bathrooms, the issue was the focus of the most intense debate at the public hearing, which lasted over four hours.

"Our families, our friends, our co-workers, and our church members -- You put them in danger with this particular amendment," shouted one speaker who was concerned about men having access to women's bathrooms.

But when she evoked Council President Dan Brady's family members by name, to make her point, she drew sharp rebuke from Brady, who immediately cut her off with his gavel.

"You're done," he declared.

Other opponents, including local clergy, argued that religious rights were being trampled upon, in order to protect the rights of others. They urged council members to include a religious exemption.

The controversial ordinance even divided families, most notably, prominent Northeast Ohio restaurant owners, Tony George and his son, Bobby. The elder George, who founded the Harry Buffalo restaurant chain, threatened to move restaurants out of the county if the ordinance passed.

But Bobby George, owner of Town Hall Tavern in Ohio City, addressed the council in support of the ordinance.

"I love my father, but I disagree strongly with this issue. In my experience, customers flock to communities where diversity is valued," he said.

The vote was 8-to-3, along party lines, with all 3 Republicans on the 11-member council placing dissenting votes.

The measure now goes to the desk of County Executive Armond Budish, who expects to sign it by Thursday. When asked if he expects legal challenges of the ordinance, he said, "You can always get a legal challenge, but it's a strong, very defendable law."

WATCH | We had full coverage of the Cuyahoga County Council meeting on WKYC's Facebook Live

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