James Kerian: Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Bill Is About Intimidation, Not Discrimination

The public argument over SB 2279, the sexual orientation and gender identity bill, has been almost as disappointing as the bill itself.  This is a bill that has been considered and defeated many, many times in previous legislative sessions.  The bill should have been discarded in the Senate as it was during the last legislative session but just like they did in 2011 the Senate this year chickened out and sent the bill on to the House of Representatives.  This, unfortunately, prolongs a discussion that seems to bring out the worst in the bill’s proponents.

No one wants bigotry to deprive someone of housing or employment.  That’s why we should all be glad that after all the many years that this bill has been brought to the legislature its proponents have yet to be able to bring any testimony whatsoever to indicate that this discrimination is happening.  This bill would be the penultimate solution in search of a problem if what its advocates really wanted was to prevent discrimination.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]If there was genuine interest in protecting people from discrimination the bill’s supporters could have introduced a uniform law to prohibit eviction without reason or termination without cause.[/mks_pullquote]

It’s tempting, of course, to say that if there is no discrimination anyway we should just pass the bill.  It will make no difference, no one will be harmed, the argument will be over, everyone wins.  The problem, again, is that the bill isn’t about prohibiting discrimination it’s about intimidating those who the bill’s proponents see as backwards and unsophisticated.  These are people who “are not yet there” as the bill’s primary sponsor put it recently.

The proponents of SB 2279 are not able to find a single instance of the discrimination they claim to be trying to prevent but they are aware that there are a lot of people in this state who disagree with them on sexual morality.  Bringing up SB 2279 every single session gives its proponents an opportunity to condemn the rest of the state for lacking empathy, sophisticationunderstanding and even Biblical values.  If they can pass it then SB 2279 gives its proponents the opportunity to flex political muscle in the face of the “not yet there” folks who make up the rest of the state.

This isn’t about using the power of the state to end discrimination.  They can’t find any to end.  This is about using the power of the state to create intimidation.  Mrs. Stutzman, a florist in the state of Washington, declined to design a floral arrangement for her “friend and longtime customer” who asked her to provide services for a same-sex wedding ceremony.  She had no objection to serving homosexuals.  She had known her friend was a homosexual throughout their business relationship.  She treated no one with hatred or antipathy.  She referred her friend to another florist so they could receive the services wanted.  But for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding she has been found guilty by a state judge in Washington of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The bill isn’t about prohibiting discrimination it’s about intimidating those who the bill’s proponents see as backwards and unsophisticated.[/mks_pullquote]

Legislation like SB 2279 has nothing to do with helping or protecting people like Stutzman’s customer.  There is absolutely no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity can cause a North Dakotan to go without housing, employment or floral services.  This legislation has everything to do with intimidating and punishing people like Stutzman.  There are a lot of people in this state who hold views like hers that the bill’s supporters consider to be backwards and “not yet there.”

If there was genuine interest in protecting people from discrimination the bill’s supporters could have introduced a uniform law to prohibit eviction without reason or termination without cause.  By carving out just one specific group for protection, however, they are able to call all of their opponents homophobes and to use the power of the state against those like Mrs Stutzman who disagree with them on morality.  How could they pass up an opportunity like that?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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