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HB135 Government Nondiscrimination Bill

Good Afternoon, All:

I wanted to share with you the text of what will be going up on our Diocese of Cheyenne Legislative Liaison site today regarding HB135, titled Government Nondiscrimination Act, linked here: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0135.pdf
This is a bill that is intended to protect religious freedoms of people who believe that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman. As in the case of Pinedale’s Judge Ruth Neely, this belief could soon be grounds for disqualifying someone from public office.

Opponents of HB135 are afraid that this law could be used to shield those who could maliciously act out against those who identify as LGBTQ. The Diocese of Cheyenne recognizes this concern and encourages whatever steps are necessary to prevent such unintended consequences from occurring. As with all proposed legislation, it is difficult to foresee every potential consequence of HB135, should it become law. This is all the more reason for an open and robust discussion regarding the bill. If amendments can be added to prevent such unintended consequences, they must be added.

But some LGBTQ advocacy groups are trying to kill the bill before it reaches committee by denying concerns regarding religious freedom and implying that those bringing the bill are motivated by hatred. This approach will not foster an atmosphere of dialogue, and the resulting polarization is not beneficial for either those who are concerned about religious freedom or for those concerned about LGBTQ rights.

To be clear, our concern for religious freedom extends well beyond issues surrounding marriage. We have also seen conscience protections being violated with regard to abortion and healthcare requirements. Proponents will acknowledge that conscience rights are being violated but justify it by saying that Roe vs. Wade, the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act and now Obergefell vs. Hodges are the “law of the land.” This does not comport with a “live and let live” philosophy. And much of the fear that has come about with the new presidential administration reveals that we are in an unprecedented time. Disregarding the conscientious objections of others by citing new “laws of the land” may seem acceptable when the powers that be share one’s own principles. But what happens when a new administration does not? Suddenly, we see that violating conscience is a line that ought to only be crossed with tremendous care. This is a lesson our founders understood very well.

In 2015, a city ordinance was passed in Laramie that outlaws discrimination against persons, not only for their “perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity but also for the expression of such an identity. (Read the ordinance here.) This ordinance goes beyond the mere protection of persons; it also codifies behavior, and all behavior has a moral quality. The Laramie City Council made a judgment regarding the morality of such associated behaviors and enshrined its judgment into law. According to the ordinance, “Any violation of this chapter shall be an offense punishable by a fine of up to seven hundred fifty dollars or a jail sentence of up to six months or both.” To avoid such a punishment anyone found guilty could agree to conciliation which may include ‘“sensitivity training” for respondent and/or respondent’s employees; the respondent’s agreement to adopt and pursue a policy of non-discrimination.’ Exactly what “sensitivity training” would consist of and who would be responsible for providing it is unclear.

In a political environment where simply disagreeing with someone is grounds for being accused of hatred, racism and bigotry, such an ordinance is cause for concern.

Other Wyoming towns have adopted resolutions elevating “sexual orientation and gender identity” as a protected class. While these resolutions do not have the same force as an ordinance, they have taken the step of codifying “sexual orientation and gender identity” language. Wyoming Equality has identified the Laramie ordinance as the blueprint it would like to see for the whole state of Wyoming.

A short time ago, those advocating for LGBTQ rights centered their plea on the idea of marriage “equality.” Today, people who identify as LGBTQ enjoy the same rights and freedoms other citizens in the state enjoy– unless they share the Catholic view of what constitutes a marriage. In that case, this segment of the population may soon find that certain government jobs are off limits to them.

I want to be very clear. I am not suggesting that passage of HB135 will solve all of our concerns regarding religious freedom. Neither will passing statewide legislation equivalent to the Laramie City Ordinance solve all of the concerns of those advocating for LGBTQ rights. I am saying that polarizing rhetoric and fear-based decisions do not provide a way forward. Please, read this bill for yourselves. But do so within the context of our current political climate. Ask yourself, “If advocates for religious freedom rights accomplish all of their goals, what will that mean for people in the LGBTQ community? If advocates for LGBTQ rights accomplish all of their goals, what will that mean for people in the faith community?” Consider what the end game looks like for all involved.

Finally, have the courage to engage in dialogue. Resist the temptation to shout down the voices of those who have opposing views. Remember to respect the dignity of all people. Pray for our legislators and for everyone you disagree with.

Peace,

Mike