Deeda Seed, a dedicated community activist and Salt Lake City Council member, seeks passage of an employment non-discrimination ordinance. The principal clause of the proposed ordinance provides that "[d]iscrimination against an otherwise qualified employee or applicant based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability is prohibited."
What could possibly be controversial about such a measure? Certainly, no one objects to protecting against race, sex, and religious discrimination in City employment practices. This is, after all, 1997.
The controversy surrounding the proposed ordinance stems solely from the idea that gay and lesbian citizens should be protected from discrimination. Apparently, many who will not come right out and say so believe that discrimination based on sexual orientation ought to be permitted. And because they won't express their bigotry outright (at least in public), they resort to all sorts of technical, unsound arguments against including sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination ordinance.
Among the predictable claims of those who oppose the anti-discrimination ordinance is that such protection provides "special rights" for gays and lesbians. However, no one ever explains how guaranteeing gays and lesbians the same rights enjoyed by others creates "special rights."
Another argument against the proposed ordinance is that protections for gays and lesbians can be accomplished by laws that do not mention "sexual orientation." According to this line of reasoning, an ordinance simply forbidding discrimination on the basis of factors that are not "employment-related" would suffice. The problem with that, however, is illustrated by what is currently happening in Spanish Fork. Wendy Weaver, an outstanding Nebo School District teacher and volleyball coach, is considered by many to be unqualified to continue her teaching career solely because she lives with, and loves, a woman - and has said so when asked. For some reason, these folks seem to believe that the most private aspect of Ms. Weaver's life is an "employment-related" factor that justifies her firing.
Following many difficult years of racial bigotry and sexual bias, we have finally achieved a broadly-accepted public policy against discrimination on the basis of race and sex. While there is still much to do to protect against discrimination in those areas, huge victories have been won against race and sex bias. Unfortunately, the same progress in overcoming discrimination has not yet been attained for gays and lesbians. Perhaps that progress will be even more difficult to achieve because of the mixture of ignorance, fear and religious condemnation that so often accompanies any discussion about equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Among the oft-repeated justifications for denying equal treatment under the law for gays and lesbians are the moral exhortations and outlandish punishments prescribed, probably by Moses, in the Old Testament. For instance, in Leviticus (18:22; 20:13) sexual relations between men are prohibited and the death penalty is decreed for those who engage in such activities. Just listen to those who quote scripture to justify their prejudices and you'll hear this refrain often. What you won't hear from them is how the Old Testament also prescribed the death penalty for those who curse their father or mother (Leviticus 20:9) and for those who commit various other offenses (Leviticus 20:10-16).
You aren't likely to hear from those who justify discrimination based on Biblical texts that, according to the Old Testament, adulterers are to be stoned to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:23-24), yet, by the account in John 8:7, Jesus disapproved of such extremism, admonishing, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." You also won't hear much from them about compassion, understanding, love and respect.
And, although we might hear many so-called "conservatives" complain incessantly about how the government should leave us alone, we don't hear much from them about how we should each stay out of the most intimate areas of others' lives.
Recognition of the equal rights of gays and lesbians, and decent treatment of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, is indeed one of the crucial civil rights issues of our time. Although personal prejudices are difficult to overcome, we can - and should - achieve an approach in our public dealings that promotes fundamental morality - love, respect and compassion for all of our brothers and sisters. And, in our public and personal lives, we can endeavor to comply with what is perhaps the greatest of all moral injunctions: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, as Rabbi Hillel (first century bce) implored: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow creature. That is the whole Law; the rest is commentary."