Utah recently passed anti-discrimination legislation to protect the claimed rights of homosexuals and transsexuals while including certain exceptions meant to guarantee religious freedom. Now activists are pushing for similar proposals, known as “Fairness for All,” in other states and on the federal level. Examining proposals for such legislation, Ryan Anderson argues against the claims made in their favor:
The approach [taken by the Utah law and similar legislative proposals] creates new protected classes in anti-discrimination law based on sexual orientation and gender identity and then grants limited exemptions and protections, mainly to religious organizations. . . . Because the new laws . . . impose new penalties on people (in some cases, jail time), the burden is on their proponents to prove the need for such laws, the “fit” between the law and the harms to be addressed, and either the lack of infringement of a preexisting right or the sufficient justification for its infringement. The record indicates clearly that proponents have failed to carry their burden on all counts. . . .
These laws are not about the freedom of LGBT people to engage in certain actions, but about coercing and penalizing people who in good conscience cannot endorse those actions. . . . It is one thing for the government to allow or even to endorse conduct that is considered immoral by many religious faiths, but it is quite another thing for government to force others to condone and facilitate it in violation of their beliefs.
There is also a practical difference between proposals for new anti-discrimination policies and policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or sex. . . . When the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [which proponents of “Fairness for All” laws often cite as precedent,] was enacted, blacks were treated as second-class citizens. Individuals, businesses, and associations across the country excluded blacks in ways that caused grave material and social harms without justification, without market forces acting as a corrective, and with the tacit and often explicit backing of government. . . . Resort to the law was therefore necessary.
But no such legal push is necessary today. . . . [Therefore], the legal response that was appropriate to remedy the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is not appropriate for today’s challenges. Simply adding sexuality and gender identity to far-reaching anti-discrimination laws and then tacking on some exemptions is not a prudent strategy. The policy response to the legitimate concerns of people who identify as LGBT must be nuanced and appropriately tailored. Anti-discrimination laws, however, are blunt instruments by design, and many go beyond intentional discrimination and ban actions that have “disparate impacts” on protected classes. Policymakers therefore need to rethink how to formulate and implement policy in this area.