Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Paducah's City Commission will vote this Tuesday to modify the human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language. The idea is to protect members of the LGBT community from unjust discrimination in areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. Who's for unjust discrimination anyway?

Paducah wasn't the first city to consider an ordinance change in the past year. Bardstown, Georgetown and Bowling Green also considered changes to their laws but local leaders rejected the proposals when they learned how such ordinances have been used to hurt others. 

Advocates of the ordinance make it sound like Paducah is in dire need of an ordinance protecting sexual orientation and gender identity.  However, the SOGI ordinance raises more questions than anything.

Why is the ordinance necessary? How many documented cases of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination are there in Paducah? Could it punish business owners who refuse to materially participate through their products or services in gay weddings?  Does this ordinance protect crossdressing in the workplace? Would it affect restrooms and locker rooms at parks and other properties owned by the city? How about public schools?

Troubling questions, certainly. But they deserve answers.

Paducah has yet to document a single case of such discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, such laws have been used across the country to punish florists, photographers and bakers like Jack Phillips, a Colorado bakery owner whose religious convictions prevented him from baking a cake for a gay wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard his case. 

A Lexington SOGI law is being used to punish Blaine Adamson for refusing to print T-shirts for a gay pride event because it promoted a message contrary to his religious beliefs. This case is now being heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which brings us to this question: why would the Paducah City Commission push ahead with a controversial ordinance when the issue is being litigated at both the state and federal level?

SOGI ordinances make a minefield of a company's hiring and employment termination process. Here's how: 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 employers valuable time and resources on scurrilous claims. How is this fair?

When it comes to hiring, private sexual behavior becomes an issue by forcing employers to somehow consider a prospective employee’s sexuality. Consider that an employer cannot be sure of every applicant's sexual orientation or gender identity unless they specifically ask. And why should they ask, unless the law makes it an issue? It's a catch 22 and could be entirely avoided by keeping an individual's private sex life out of the interview process.

Some have argued that the ordinance would not affect religious organizations. However, SOGI laws have been used to threaten pastors operating in pastoral capacity outside a nonprofit church facility. Consider Idaho Pastors Donald and Evelyn Knapp who were prosecuted under a SOGI ordinance in 2014 for refusing to marry a homosexual couple in their for-profit wedding chapel in Couer d’Alene, Idaho.  Clearly, recent history indicates that SOGI laws bring trouble to a community. 

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 allow no room for such distinctions.  Since this is the case, Paducah City Commissioners should reject this inherently dangerous and divisive proposal.

This column appeared in the January 6, 2018 edition of the West Kentucky Star.