Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

McDonnell: No Discrimination Against Gays (Really?)

March 26th, 2010 No comments

VA Governor Bob McDonnell (whose topsy-turvy actions on gay rights I’ve chronicled here) now says that there would be no need for a state law protecting the LGBT community against discrimination.  Why not? According to this quote (h/t Joe.My.God), there’s no problem in need of a solution:

I don’t know that we need it based on the numbers that I’ve seen….There really isn’t any rampant discrimination on any basis in Virginia. If you’re going to have a law, it needs to actually address a real problem.

This is a very prosecutorial/attorney-general way of looking at the issue: We only see cases that are reported, brought, and litigated. There’s something to this approach. After all, discrimination laws have a cost (suits can be frivolous, and give bad employees an “out” for lousy work), so we at least want a real problem before we’re going to pass a law.

Unfortunately, the McDonnell approach is staggeringly limited and naive. First, by the logic of his statement, there should be no anti-discrimination laws on the books: If there’s no “rampant discrimination on any basis,” then we should repeal all of the laws, given the cost I mentioned above.

I doubt McDonnell would support such repeal efforts, though. Why? I can think of three reasons, all of which are likely at work here. First, he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. Second, it may be that there’s no way to repeal laws banning discrimination based on sex, race, religion, etc., without ensuring a swift, forced political retirement. (Compare: anti-gay discrimination.) Third, he realizes that laws have an important symbolic, messaging effect.

Of course they do. And enacting a law protecting against sexual orientation discrimination would send a powerful, state-sponsored message that the state stands with its LGBT citizens (although I’d be surprised if “T” were to be included) and against unjustified discrimination. McDonnell himself has conceded this point in the Executive Directive he signed a couple of weeks ago, affirming an anti-discrimination commitment (albeit not an enforceable one.)

But that’s not even the best reason to pass such a law. McDonnell doesn’t see — or pretends not to, anyway — that anti-gay discrimination is insidious. Gays and lesbians are much likelier to remain closeted in states where they can be fired just for being gay. And closeted people don’t claim discrimination, because you can’t discriminate against something invisible. But that just means that the discrimination is of a different, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” sort, not that it doesn’t exist.

Moreover, anyone who was discriminated against would be very unlikely to report it in a state that doesn’t protect the reporter. You’re demoted, transferred, or passed over for promotion because you’re a lesbian? A few may turn to the ACLU, Lambda Legal, or some other civil right organization, but most will swallow the discrimination and soldier on, having few occupational choices and no legal recourse.

Does any of that count as a problem, Governor?

Pennsylvania Grinds Towards Equality

March 23rd, 2010 1 comment

You might have read that the Pennsylvania Senate’s Judiciary Committee recently rejected a measure to enshrine the state’s law against same-sex marriages in the constitution. You might not have read something quite remarkable about that vote, though: the 8-6 majority in opposition was the same body — with only one change — from the committee that voted for the amendment by a 10-4 vote just two years ago. In other words, three of the ten have switched their vote to the pro-equality side. That’s major progress.

Well, kind of: Keep in mind that the state’s law against same-sex marriages remains firmly in place, and I don’t expect that Senator Daylin Leach’s bill to repeal that law in favor of marriage equality will pass any time soon. I even doubt that more than a few of the eight who voted against the amendment would support marriage equality at this point.

But they’ve at least come to see that impaling inequality into the state’s charter is a very bad idea, because it freezes what they must now be seeing as discrimination in place, making it much harder to undo. So their vote at least suggests an openness to argument, to considering that they may be wrong.

The measure’s proponent, John Eichelberger, was dismayed and confused: “Why they did it, I don’t know, because they are some of the people who were in support of this effort in the past.” Well, people are changed by their experiences and surroundings. As Leach put it:

My colleagues have been feeling increasingly uncomfortably with the idea of us as a state discriminating against an entire class of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. As time goes by, I think more people are going to be embracing equality and rejecting this kind of discrimination so that everyone in this state can live in peace and with dignity.

That’s a bit Pollyannish in a state that still doesn’t even have an anti-discrimination law in place, but the importance of this vote — and that it signals the likely end of any serious push to amend the state’s constitution — is still to be celebrated. A little.