By JEREMIAH G. DYS
Elane Huguenin is the part owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, N.M. Recently, a lesbian couple asked Elane to photograph their "commitment ceremony." Recognizing that her Christian beliefs would be in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony, Elane declined their business.
At the beginning of April, a Commissioner with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ordered Elane to pay $6,637.94 in attorney fees and costs to the lesbian couple who sued Elane Photography for sexual orientation discrimination under the New Mexico Human Rights Act.
Elane has been penalized for simply abiding by her religious beliefs and is now forced -– under color of law -– to choose between her religious beliefs and her business practice.
During the 2008 session of the West Virginia legislature, our leaders nearly added to West Virginia's already expansive corporate liability. S.B. 600 would have made the West Virginia Human Rights and Fair Housing Acts read nearly verbatim to the laws that convicted Elane in New Mexico.
Businesses and families throughout West Virginia should reject bills like S.B. 600. Though billed as egalitarianism, such "nondiscrimination ordinances" (NO's) are anything but. Frankly, Elane's $6K judgment is paltry by comparison to some. Consider:
In 1998, employees of a Minnesota business who dared to read their Bibles at work were forced to attend "diversity training," which was little more than indoctrination by gay rights activists. It took four (4) years of litigation to vindicate the supposedly inalienable First Amendment freedoms of these employees.
A California company was forced to settle a lawsuit for $1 million and lay off several employees after it was sued under California's N.O. for failing to promote a man who came dressed to work as a woman. Only after the lawsuit was filed did the company learn that the man was not a woman.
NO's not only increase the corporate liability for West Virginia companies, they also lead to absurd results. Under NO's, companies may be precluded from enforcing dress codes at work, thus allowing men to come to work dressed as women. Conceivably, employers could not preclude gender-confused employees from using shower and restroom facilities of the opposite gender.
In short, NO's –- whether adopted in the board room, at city hall, or in the capitol -– are bad for business and bad for the families of West Virginia. Such measures will almost certainly result in significant lawsuits against large and small companies throughout the mountain state.
Unless and until it is shown that "sexual orientation" has been the subject of political powerlessness, economic disenfranchisement, and is of an immutable nature, it should not receive the benefit of human and civil rights protection afforded to historically protected classes such as race, gender, age, disability, and religion.
To do otherwise would upend half a century of jurisprudence and penalize our families for abiding by their religious beliefs.
Dys is the president and general counsel of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia. Download the Council's White Paper, "Businesses and S.B. 600" at www.familypolicywv.com.