As we move forward in our collective quest for equality we are struck by the absurdity of the opposition’s arguments. Whether it is the Catholic Bishops letter against Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the rabid right wing-nuts coming out to discredit Royal Oak’s non-discrimination ordinance, we find ourselves wondering if they seriously believe some of the ridiculous things they say to justify discrimination. We also wonder how long we have to endure public votes on whether any minority should be granted civil rights.
The latest rants have invoked religious freedom, and the belief that granting civil rights to a persecuted minority somehow disturbs other people’s religious rights. In their letter to the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Conference of Bishops argue that, “ENDA could be used to punish as discrimination what many religions – including the Catholic religion -teach, particularly moral teaching about same-sex sexual conduct.”
We pose these questions back to them; Are your teachings really that moral if they allow for gays and lesbians to be treated badly at work? Can your argument truly claim to have the higher moral ground if it allows for discrimination against another person?
Undoubtedly these questions are being asked within the Church itself. Just last week the Vatican ordered an unprecedented poll of all Catholics. Same-sex marriage, divorce, contraception and gay adoption are just some of the wide-ranging social issues featured on the survey which will be administered by the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops. There is an obvious schism of opinion and the Vatican is looking for some indication of where the wind is blowing in their pews.
We believe that the religious freedom arguments reflect a desperate, last ditch attempt to scare people. Previous arguments that attempted to appeal to some level of reason have been tried and failed; LGBT people are pedophiles, we can’t sustain relationships, we are all sex crazed maniacs, murderers and social misfits. The general public is now hip to these scare tactics – they don’t buy them any more. So in a desperate attempt to re-instill fear that LGBT people are dangerous, they have come up with the religious freedom theme – one based entirely on dogma and not reason.
In Royal Oak the right wing opposition to the local non-discrimination ordinance has used some of the same, tired ravings, especially about bathrooms. But the core of their argument echos the Bishops’ letter that religious freedoms is impinged by equality. This argument that equality and religious freedom are at odds is contrived and false, and meant to create anxiety and fear. Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed said he opposes workplace discrimination, “but this bill opens a Pandora’s box of assaults on religious freedom, litigation, and compliance costs for businesses and non-profits that will be a nightmare.”
Support for ENDA is overwhelming. Over 63 percent of small business owners support ENDA. Majorities of every Christian denomination, and the voting majorities in every state support it. Even half of Tea Party members in Ohio say they support passage of this legislation. There is no reasonable argument against it that resonates, so opponents must turn to fear tactics to get any response.
At press time we do not yet know the results of the voting in Royal Oak. Whether we win or lose, it is increasingly clear that the patchwork of equality in Michigan is ludicrous. If you are in Ann Arbor you have protections, but drive to Brighton and you don’t. In Ferndale you can’t be asked to leave a restaurant because they think you are gay, but you can be tossed out in Warren. LGBT people can be fired from a job in Dearborn, but not in Dearborn Heights.
We need uniform protections in the entire state of Michigan. We thank Unity Michigan for getting 28 cities and townships to extend protections for their citizens. The Coalition’s efforts have provided a powerful education tool – town by town – about the reality of LGBT life in Michigan. People have routinely been surprised, even shocked, when they discover that LGBT can be fired, or denied housing, or refused service because of who they are perceived to be. Now is the time for the state legislature step up and to pass the amendment to the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Law that would extend protections to LGBT people statewide. It just makes sense. It is reasonable. And there is nothing to fear from it.