Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Laws in Wyoming

Many of you are aware that this last session Senate File 153 Employment Nondiscrimination (linked below) was introduced. This bill sought to prohibit “discriminatory payment and employment practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” It was narrowly defeated in the Senate by a vote of 17-13. The language in the bill appeared innocuous. After all, no person of good will would be FOR discriminating against people, and it did include religious exemptions.

SF153:

http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/SF0153.pdf

However, as Wyoming Equality (the local advocacy group for all LGBT issues) has admitted, getting such legislation passed is just the beginning. This organization is on record saying that its ultimate goal is to pass statewide legislation equivalent to the Laramie city ordinance which was passed in 2015. This ordinance (linked below) not only addresses employment practices, but housing and public accommodation based upon “perceived sexual orientation and gender identity” AND their associated expressions.

“Gender identity or expression” means an actual or perceived gender related identity, expression, or behavior, regardless of the individual’s sex at birth.” 9.32.020 paragraph A.

Laramie Ordinance:

https://www.municode.com/library/wy/laramie/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT9PUPEMOWE_CH9.32ILDI

 In its boldness, the Laramie City Council acknowledged what sponsors of SF153 did not; namely, that implicit in the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity” are certain behaviors. Laws that create protections based upon “sexual orientation and gender identity” ultimately codify and enshrine specific sexual behavior. This is true whether these laws acknowledge it or not. It is important to remember that there is no current law in Wyoming prohibiting these behaviors. However, even without the passage of laws like the Laramie ordinance, any person(s) who refuses to validate behaviors associated with sexual orientation and gender identity could already find themselves in legal trouble. We are seeing this happen around the country. With the Wyoming Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Judge Ruth Neely, we are already seeing it in our own state.

Neely Decision:

http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Documents/Opinions/2017WY25.pdf

Judge Neely was publicly censured for stating that she did not think she could solemnize a same-sex wedding because of her religious beliefs. (She was never actually asked to marry a same-sex couple.) To participate would have been validating same-sex expression and its associated behaviors. The majority opinion stated that Judge Neely was not being censured for her religious beliefs, but for her conduct. The majority went on to say “The United States Supreme Court has recognized an important distinction between the ‘freedom to believe and the freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be.’” While expressed behaviors associated with sexual orientation and gender identity are not equivalent to a religious expression, what one believes about the morality of such expressions does make up a part of that persons world view. In the courts mind, the “freedom to act” in accordance to one’s beliefs about his or her sexual orientation and gender identity is more “absolute” than the “freedom to act” in accordance with one’s religiously formed conscience. (Bear in mind, there are other judges, and religious pastors in Pinedale who do same-sex weddings. Judge Neely indicated she would refer any same-sex couple seeking to be married to one of them.) It appears that even in the absence of legislation like SF 153, the state is establishing a preference for the expression of one belief over and against another. Judge Neely was punished because her conscience would not allow her to validate a same-sex expression. This sets a dangerous precedent as stated by the minority opinion “This case is about religious beliefs and same sex marriage. The issues considered here determine whether there is a religious test for who may serve as a judge in Wyoming.”

Of course, all of this begs the bigger question as to why the state is involved in marriage in the first place. No doubt, this is a complicated question with a no less complicated answer. Before the age of widespread contraceptive use and the normalization of debt, most people recognized that the natural consequence following the marital union of a man and a woman was often the birth of children. Children are a beautiful gift from God, but raising and educating them is expensive. Nevertheless, they are the future leaders, workers and taxpayers of our country. The state found that it had a vested interest in ensuring that parents have the ability to raise their children. Tax breaks in anticipation of children makes sense. Eventually, “Governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents.

New York Times Op-Ed:    

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/opinion/26coontz.html

Hence, marriage was a religious institution long before the state ever got involved. Only in relatively recent history did the government begin to see marriage as a good that could help ensure its future. God forbid that the state should find a reason to begin rewarding people for the reception of one of the other seven Sacraments.

Back to the Ordinance

According to the Laramie ordinance, anyone accused of discrimination will be investigated. If the accused is found guilty, he or she may seek a conciliation agreement which

“may include: sensitivity training (It is unclear: 1) who would be responsible for determining the content of such training 2) who would administer the training) for respondent and/or respondent’s employees” 9.32.100 paragraph A

If conciliation is not achieved, the accused may be subject to a $750 fine or 6 months in jail, or both.

Wyoming Equality has indicated that the Laramie ordinance is the blueprint for future legislation at the state level. It will most likely seek to achieve this in incremental steps. Until then, it has indicated that it will continue to seek passage of similar ordinances or resolutions from town to town. (Next week in the Capitol.) It is vital that people around the state read the Laramie ordinance for themselves. This is not “live and let live” policy.

These types of laws will not promote the common good and will ultimately hinder progress for those experiencing same-sex attractions.

Religious Exemptions

The religious exemptions that were included in SF153 (and I’m told will be included in the Cheyenne ordinance) seem like a friendly accommodation. Many Christians will not oppose these laws because exemptions are included in them. However, we know that the majority of the Christian Church does not reside behind the pulpit. Ninety-nine percent of the Church sits in the pews and then is sent forth. Exemptions only provide protection for this portion of the Church while behind the walls of the Church.

Ours is an incarnational faith. The Word of God did not reside as a thought or idea in some abstract place. John’s Gospel says “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Our faith calls us not to simply think about the Word of God, but to be transformed by it. The precedence that is set by these “accommodations” denies the reality of such a transformation.

A Battle on Two Fronts:

The Church has a tremendous amount of work to do. She is engaged in a two-prong effort; on one hand resisting the passage of unjust legislation and on the other hand, modeling compassionate outreach to our brothers and sisters who identify within the LGBT community. Some efforts are already in motion, but we have a very long way to go. Many within this community desire the passage of such laws because they have been isolated from friends, family and faith communities. Such isolation makes them vulnerable. Regrettably, many Christians have stood silent while others have used the bible to insight hatred toward them. These brothers and sisters have been treated like lepers. This is unacceptable. We have to muster the courage to go out and meet them where they are.

The Church cannot remain silent on this important issue. However, when the Church does speak, it is vitally important that She does so with clarity and compassion. Next week, I will be sending out another email with information about an important conference in Denver, hosted by St. John Vianney Theological Seminary titled “Framing the Catholic Response to Gender Ideology.” The conference will be held May 16th-18th. It is my hope that the conference will help us in our ongoing efforts to speak the Truth in Love.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

In Christ’s peace,

Mike

Leave a Reply