6/25/2009

Delaware bill providing legal protection against discrimination passes

So on other fronts, while Archbishop - elect Duncan was becoming ACNA Archbishop Duncan, some of us in his former state and diocese of residence were working away at the State House in Dover to get legislation passed to provide legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It took 13 - that's 13 - years to get sexual orientation added to the list of classes of people who are protected from discrimination.

Drew Fennell, a wonderful and good friend, worked with Senator David Sokola to manage the floor debate. Representatives William Oberle, Jr. and Pete Schwartzkopf did the heavy lifting in the House.

I became part of the doings on this bill when it was House Bill 99, about 10 years ago. I testified then on the House floor. Yesterday, I was back and this time was called on to speak to the Senate where the debate went on for some time. Senate Bill 121 passed there and was sent immediately over to the House where it passed as well. It now goes to the Governor for signing.

It was a great day for GLBT folk, friends, and indeed for all regular paid up citizens in Delaware where at long last the reality of discrimination and its remedies are recognized. But the struggle continues. I was appalled to see the level of homophobia, prejudice and down right meanness there was in the proceedings.

An attorney for those opposed to this bill used an outrageous illustration of the way this bill might be used in support of gay marriage. He said, if you take a can of white paint and one of red paint and you mix them you get pink, and similarly if you take already clear law and add this new bill, you get a mixed future where the color will be changed. I don't know if this attorney had any idea what he was saying, but for me there were suddenly the images of the pink triangle used to mark / brand homosexuals in Nazi Germany. And, in Delaware, not noted for its racial inclusively, mention of color is always up for under the radar secondary meaning concerning race. Without saying a word on the surface the speaker was able to help the hearer make the leap from legal opportunism and possible confusions to the "pink" of homosexual branding to the dangers of mixed race / color.

Thus, later in arguments about how this bill would make it necessary to teach the acceptability of homosexual lifestyles, there was no need to mention just how all of this added to "impurity" of the race and the lifting up of defectives, etc. It was awful. So the Bill passed and for that I am grateful. But the struggle is far from over. The clever subtexts of the opponents to this bill make it clear.

Here is what the Wilmington News Journal reported this morning (Thursday June 25) :


Legislators vote to halt discrimination based on sexual orientation

By MIKE CHALMERS The News Journal (Wilmington Delaware)

DOVER - Gays and lesbians in Delaware will have legal protection from discrimination under a bill that passed the General Assembly late Wednesday night, more than a decade after supporters started fighting for it.

The House chamber erupted in applause, cheers and hugs when representatives passed the measure shortly after 8:30 p.m. An hour earlier the Senate - where previous versions of the legislation always were killed - passed the same bill after a three-hour debate.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature. Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, Who helped push the bill through the House, said Markell has expressed support for it.

"We made a big step for¬ward tonight,” said Drewry Fennell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Delaware, which supported the bill. "It protects the most basic activities of human life - moving about the world, earning a living, keeping a roof over your head," Fennell said. "Now the state has said you can't be discriminated against because of sexual orientation."

The measure, Senate Bill 121, adds sexual orientation to the list of protections under Delaware's anti-discrimination law. That law covers housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations and insurance.

Opponents of the bill argued it pushes their religious convictions aside in favor of "sexual liberties."

Five similar bills have passed in the House in the past decade but then stalled in Senate Committees. Intense, behind-the-scenes lob¬bying by supporters brought the proposal to full votes in both houses Wednesday evening.

"We knew if we could get it to the floor for to honest debate, it would pass," said Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, and House majority leader Rep. William Oberle Jr., R - Beecher's Lot, has been pushing the proposal for more than a decade.

"It's obviously a great feeling," Oberle said. "When you're doing the right thing, it makes it a lot easier to deal with [frustrations and pressure]. We did the right thing tonight."

The measure that passed Wednesday night is nearly identical to one that passed the House in March. That House bill died in the Senate Executive Committee, where the late Sen. Thurman Adams would not let it be brought to the full Senate.

Instead, Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark introduced his own bill, which was assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee. That five-member body voted unanimously last week to send the bill to the full Senate, setting up Wednesday night’s events.

The Senate began the debate shortly after 4 p.m. More than 70 people packed the chamber's balcony gallery and dozens more sat in chairs circling the Senate floor.

Sens. Robert Venables, D- Laurel, and George Bunting, D -Bethany Beach, began by asking Sokola to postpone the vote until January because of the budget crisis, Adams' death and the absence of Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, from the floor.

Sokola responded that legislators had plenty of time to learn about the bill and line up witnesses.
The debate centered on three amendments, co-sponsored by Adams, that Venables introduced last week. Venables and his supporters said the amendments would have:
• Clarified that the bill could not be used to force recognition of same-sex marriages.
• Prevented schools from teaching acceptance of homosexuality.
• Allowed individuals and businesses who object to homosexuality because of "sincerely held religious or conscientious beliefs" not to be forced to participate in objectionable practices.

As each amendment came to the floor, its supporters and opponents brought witnesses to comment on them. For each lawyer or clergyman' that supporters sent to the podium, opponents had their own lawyers and clergymen.

Speaking in favor of all three 'amendments was Tim Tracey, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative advocacy group whose mission is "to aggressively defend religious liberty."

He said activists in other states have used similar laws to push for same-sex marriage and the teaching of homosexuality in schools. He listed several court cases in which, he said, "religious freedom lost, even though it's enshrined in the First Amendment."

Venables several times said he did not think discrimination based on sexual orientation even existed. He doubted that homosexuals should be given legal protection for what he said was a lifestyle choice.

''I'm convinced that lesbians can be made," Venables said. "I don't want it taught in our schools that this is a normal lifestyle,"

Opponents countered that discrimination does exist and should be prevented

The Rev. Mark Harris, associate priest at St. Peter's Episco¬pal Church in Lewes, said allowing individuals or businesses to essentially ignore the law because of their beliefs would "eviscerate" the bill.

"Our individual religious proclivities are ours," Harris said. "But if I run a publicly accessible place of business, I can't do that [ignore the law]."

All three amendments were defeated by a 12-6 vote. The debate on the full bill lasted only about a half-hour and was approved, 14-5.

After the Senate approved the bill, it moved to the House, which stayed in session well past its normal quitting time so it could vote on the measure.

Opponents introduced four amendments in the House - three that were identical to those defeated in the Senate and one that was a scaled-back version of Venables' marriage-defense amendment.

All four were defeated.

END.

Pretty good day's (and decade's) work.

19 comments:

  1. ''I'm convinced that lesbians can be made," Venables said. "I don't want it taught in our schools that this is a normal lifestyle,"

    Where? Where is the 'factory' where lesbians are made? Maybe they also do 'tune ups,' 'maintenance' and 'repairs'. Ms. Conroy and I have been at this for 33 years.

    I don't think the warranty has expired, but if I have to bear all the discrimination not covered in this new law - like still not being able to married in that State or even have my NJ domestic partnership recognized there - I want to make sure I'm in good shape.

    Good work, Mark. And, thank you. Very much.

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  2. Though not resident in Delaware, thank you for your witness and support.

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  3. So - will a conservative pastor be allowed to say from the pulpit that he is convinced that same-sex sexual activity is contrary to God's intention and that it is an immoral activity? Or would such a statement be branded as "hate speech" and be an actionable offense?

    And will teachers be forced to say that same-sex attraction is normal variation in human sexuality, even if, on the basis of scientific evidence, they do not think that it is? Will a student be allowed to voice such an opinion in class? (I am not talking about insulting a fellow student, but about classroom discussions.)

    Conservative Christians, and others who believe that same-sex sexual activity is both wrong and detrimental to society will be forced to choose between their conscience/convictions and getting into trouble.

    And the Thought Police will not be far behind, I imagine.

    Hiram

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  4. Elizabeth, glad the warranty has not expired...but it is taking forever. (Sigh.)

    Hiram...you have not the slightest idea what you are talking about. Senate Bill 121 has nothing to do with any of the questions you are raising. Free speech is free, not necessarily any good. So the pastor can say whatever she or he wishes and listeners can tune in or out.

    As to the classroom... the content of courses is a matter for the Department of Education and the School Boards. I would hope students are allowed to voice whatever opinions they have on what ever they wish. It might help if they have some facts in hand.

    If by "getting into trouble" you mean having to go before Sen. Venables, the Grand Inquisitor, sure. Big deal. If by "getting into trouble" you mean violating laws that protect gay and lesbian persons from discrimination in hiring, you may as well. The second of these - violating laws - has one of several solutions: Change the law, change your mind, or open more widely the gates of your heart.

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  5. Hallelujah! I was just thinking about this bill this week and, lo...! I was there 10 years ago on the House floor also, testifying in favor of the house bill. I got anonymous phone calls, hate calls, hate mail in the newspapers. It was creepy, but it ended, and it was the right thing to do.

    At last - Good work, Mark, Great work, Delaware!

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  6. Hiram: Unless the Delaware anti-discrimination law specifically restrict free speech or mandate what you describe, your point is a well-used but ultimately baseless straw man. Freedom of speech still applies, else the KKK and other similarly dubious organizations would be out of business.

    As a school board member (albeit in Oregon) I know of no mandate to force teachers to "say that same-sex attraction is normal variation in human sexuality". Most teahers have little enough time to teach what is mandated.

    Finally, the right of pastors to say just about anything from the pulpit has pretty much been assured. Jeremiah Wright would likely be the poster child for this, but pastors from both liberal and conservative ends of the spectrum have tested this out.

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  7. Back to the hoary old "if I give her the wool, will she make me one too?" joke. Apropriate, since the joke must be about the same vintage as PB Alastair Sim Central Casting Venables.

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  8. Mark,
    This is a good thing, and thank you for your work to help get it passed!

    Can you comment on whether or not the issue of discrimination on the basis of gender identity was ever discussed by the proponents and sponsors of the bill? While I am very happy to see this passed, it seems that while the T is in LGBT, that our transgendered sisters and brothers were left sitting at the bus station.

    Caoilin

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  9. "Lebians can be made"? How? Get a 'normal' girl and keep adding softballs and flannel shirts until done?
    Michael Jackson is dead-the ultimate funeral/freakshow is upon us.

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  10. Great work, Mark! Time marches on and how wonderful you marched on with it for this great victory!

    Thank you for being there and doing this!

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  11. Father Mark, you're a real mensch.

    Thanks for all of your work for the past 13 years, and how satisfying to see it all come to such happy (if delayed) fruition!

    Again,

    Thank you.

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  12. Mark, thank you for giving us the details of this great news. It's an honor to know you in Anglo-cyberspace (or whatever it's called :-)

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  13. Hiram,

    Careful! If that total red herring you are waving gets some sun light, it will be, well, pink. ;-)

    FWIW
    jimB

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  14. Hiram,
    You live in the United States, so you ought to know that "hate speech" is not an "actionable offense". If it were, Fred Phelps would have been in jail years ago! The First Amendment allows people to express all kinds of repugnant ideas. A crime is committed when someone acts on those beliefs to take away someone else's liberties. This is Civics 101, isn't it?

    As for teachers, they will be expected to teach the state curriculum. Or do you think teachers should be free to inject their personal religious or philosophical convictions into the classroom? Should a Muslim teacher be able to critique Christianity to his students just because his "conscience" dictates?

    And I ask you to think carefully about Jesus' teaching to do to others what you would have them do, and then think about what you would want a teacher (under whose authority you were) to say and do if you were a teenager and recognized you had same-sex attractions.

    By the way.... BIG THANKS, FATHER MARK, for your work on this bill. A victory anywhere is a victory everywhere. Halleluyah!

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  15. So, Does this mean that in Delaware,the wedding photgrapher, baker, etc will be sued as in other states? That Christian universities will be forced to allow same sex couples in married housing, etc? The pastor may be protected, but what about conservatives in other jobs? I know many here think that everyone who disagrees with them is a bigot who deserves to be fined, arrested, etc. but this troubles me.

    Chris H.

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  16. Chris H, AKA Anonymous... I believe that people who conduct businesses that are profit making, for the general public are subject to the same rules that apply to all other businesses.

    Free speech is free speech. People who run businesses for the general public, however will find that they lose business if they vocally exclude potential customers, and if they do so by not providing their declared services offered to the general public, they are likely to be sued.

    About faith based schools and their dorms, I don't know. Bet it's complex.

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  17. Mark, I remember the original wording of House Bill 99 was "PERCEIVED sexual orientation". This was what changed the mind of a couple of my parishioners in Delaware to understanding this was a good bill, a bill about basic civil rights, ten years ago. People were being denied housing, insurance, employment for merely being PERCEIVED to be gay. I was wondering if "perceived" is in the final bill which passed both houses.

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  18. Not a lawyer... but that seldom stops me spouting off on legal questions.... ;-)

    With regard to wedding photographers, etc., the Delaware law didn't enact "gay marriage," so I don't see how it has any impact on those providing wedding services. What we're talking about is whether, for example, a hair-dresser could refuse to cut a lesbian's hair. Chris H., do you think a devout conservative Christian should have a right to refuse to cut a lesbian's hair? How about a doctor? Should a doctor be able to refuse to provide medical services to a gay man?

    The BIG question here, which is not a legal one, is WWJD? Would Jesus refuse to provide day-to-day services to people? Would Jesus refuse to rent an apartment to a gay couple?

    As for private Christian schools. Well, they are private. They can set and enforce codes of conduct. If Brigham Young University can expell a student for producing a "Missionary Beefcake" calendar, then a private Christian college can certainly say that homosexual behavior is uncompatible with their norms of behavior. But this begs the question of why a committed same-sex couple would want to be students at a school where they were not welcome.

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