A majority of Henderson City Commissioners said they'd like to reconsider a "Fairness" ordinance that elevates sexual orientation and gender identity to civil rights status. Some see the move as promoting diversity and tolerance. Others see it as unnecessary and divisive.
What's fascinating in the midst of this debate is that I have been accused of spreading fear simply because I oppose the move. In a column printed in The Gleaner last week Luke Hall harshly criticized my organization and called the Commonwealth Policy Center "a think tank known for promoting anti-LGBT measures rooted in hate and intolerance." I beg to differ.
Having a different opinion on sexual ethics and public policy doesn't mean we're hateful or intolerant. It means we have a different opinion. Our perspective may be disagreeable with Mr. Hall but if he'd listen carefully he'd find that our tone strikes a chord that supports true tolerance and fairness for all.
We believe that all people are made in the image of God and therefore have inherent dignity. We believe that nobody should be marginalized or maligned. And if one sees another fellow human being bullied, anywhere at anytime, it's each of our duty to stand in their defense.
Hall says "Hate, intolerance and Patti Bugg’s indifference have no place in the welcoming hometown of Henderson where I grew up." Does Commissioner Bugg's opposition to the ordinance make her hateful or intolerant? Can one be opposed to the ordinance without being opposed to people who identify as LGBT?
Unfortunately, for some LGBT political activists, the answer is no. Too many choose instead to demonize opponents, isolate them from the mainstream, and marginalize their views. Such tactics are unfortunate and unfair. They also short-circuit discussion.
Is it really unreasonable for Commissioner Bugg or anyone else for that matter, to suggest that a SOGI ordinance is unnecessary and would hurt and divide Henderson? She saw what the ordinance did 20 years ago.
Hall raises the specter of economic stagnation and says that businesses would be deterred from locating there if Henderson doesn't adopt a SOGI law. If SOGI laws are so important to economic growth, then why did NUCOR Steel recently choose Brandenburg over Paducah last week for its $1.35 billion expansion? Paducah enacted a SOGI law last year. Brandenburg doesn't have one.
If anything, SOGI laws deter businesses by creating a difficult climate when it comes to hiring and firing decisions. For example, if an openly homosexual or transgender employee is fired for poor job performance, they can simply claim “sexual orientation discrimination,” bring it before the Human Rights Commission, and tie up an employer's valuable time and resources on scurrilous claims. This is not only unfair, its problematic for employers who'd rather avoid deeply personal issues unrelated to their work performance.
The reality is that numerous businesses have been shut down or punished by SOGI laws. New Mexico's SOGI law was used to fine a photographer over $6,600 for refusing to do a photo shoot of a lesbian wedding. New York's SOGI law was used to levy a $13,000 fine on an agri-tourism venue that refused to host a gay wedding. Oregon's SOGI law was used to issue a $135,000 fine on a husband and wife who ran a bakery. How are such punitive measures fair or tolerant?
But we needn't look so far to see how SOGI laws have been used as tools of intolerance. Right here in Kentucky, Lexington printer Blaine Adamson has fought an eight-year legal battle against Lexington's SOGI ordinance that tried to force him to promote an event and message that violated his religious convictions. He's accumulated over $500,000 in legal fees defending his First Amendment rights.
Adamson's case challenging Lexington's SOGI law is now in front of the Kentucky Supreme Court. In light of this, it would be prudent for the Henderson City Commission to wait until a ruling is handed down.
The legal trend is to affirm First Amendment claims of freedom of religion over SOGI discrimination claims. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission wrongly used a state SOGI law to compel Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips to produce a message contrary to his religious beliefs.
There will be claims that opposition to the SOGI ordinance will hurt the LGBT community. Truth is, one can be for an individual and respect their humanity without embracing and agreeing with all their personal choices. SOGI laws unfortunately fail to allow room for such distinctions.
If the Henderson City Commission is concerned about dividing the community, they should reject this proposal and instead insist that every resident practice the Golden Rule and treat others with respect. That would be true fairness for all.