Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

The Murray City Council is scheduled to hear the first reading of an ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as protected status into its nondiscrimination code on December 8. The proposed ordinance was postponed last month after concerned Murray residents packed city hall. Many were concerned was that it would infringe on religious freedom and rights of conscience.

The law essentially elevates sexual identity and sexual orientation to civil rights status on par with race and ethnicity. It would specifically make it illegal to make a judgment on sexual orientation or gender identity regarding housing, employment and public accommodations. While nobody should condone ugly or bigoted treatment toward a fellow human being, several questions should be answered before city council takes action.

First, why is this ordinance needed? Are there any documented cases of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in Murray?  If not, why is it being pushed? Second, could the ordinance potentially punish business owners who refuse to materially participate through their products or services in gay weddings?  Finally, does this ordinance protect homosexual activity or crossdressing in the workplace?

We were once told that somebody’s private sexual life is nobody’s business. Should this ordinance pass, it drags one’s sex life into the workplace. Here’s how: if employers shouldn’t ask about somebody’s private sex life during an interview and the prospective employee doesn’t bring this up, then how can an employer be held accountable for failing to hire somebody based on their sexual orientation? It could also be used as a tool to punish employers who are publicly known for high moral standards in their workplace—think Chik fil-A and Hobby Lobby. They could become a target or test case for homosexual activists who might push the envelope. The last thing businesses need in this tough economic climate is a subjective law that would be easy to abuse and put them at risk of liability.

Truth is, most business owners are having trouble finding hard working and qualified employees. They are most concerned about finding reliable workers who contribute to their team.  No credible employers are going out of their way to look for a reason not to hire an otherwise well-qualified employee.

Consider that there is no scientific consensus on how to define sexual orientation.  Sexual orientation is a subjective category. It is self-disclosed and self-defined.  Unlike race and ethnicity, which are inborn, nonbehavioral characteristics, SOGI includes behaviors. An employer’s decision to reasonably taking into account the behavior of employees in the workplace are core personnel decisions best left to businesses themselves, not the government.

According to the American Psychological Association, gender identity is “’one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender.’  When one’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the individual may identify as transsexual or as another transgender category.”  Until recently, transsexualism was classified as a disorder. In December of 2012 , the APA removed "Gender Identity Disorder" from its list of abnormalities.  Transgenderism is now on the cusp of being protected by law.

What does this mean practically? Massachusetts passed a SOGI law in 2012. Shortly after, the state school superintendent issued an order which required all public school bathrooms open for transgendered students.  When Washington State extended rights to transgendered individuals, Evergreen College could not tell a 45-year old male who identified and dressed as a woman that he could not use the women’s locker room. Even though young girls used the facility and parents loudly objected, Evergreen spokesman Jason Wettstein issued a tepid response. “The college has to follow state law. The college cannot discriminate based on the basis of gender identity.” Is this where Murray wants to go?

The law is cloaked under the guise of tolerance, but ultimately if enacted, it will become a dangerous tool of intolerance. Any homosexual or transgendered individual who merely suspects they didn’t get hired or were fired because of their sexuality could file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. The photographers, bakers, florists who hold religious objections to accommodating gay weddings will be forced to put their conscience and moral convictions on the shelf or face fines. This is not theoretical. It’s happening all across the country.

Why should otherwise good members of the community potentially be in the crosshairs of such laws?  That’s a question that city council will apparently have to answer.