Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Elon: Beware the complex issues and land mines hidden in a supposed “nondiscrimination” ordinance

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Elon alderman Quinn Ray is on a crusade. He keeps bringing up to his board the idea of enacting what he terms a “nondiscrimination” ordinance.

What Ray and other advocates have attempted to minimize, however, is that the real, practical thrust of the proposed ordinance in Elon is to establish gay and transgender rights as protected classes – along with the more traditional bans on discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

Those five broad forms of discrimination have been banned for more than a half century – since the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964!

Other laws, at the federal and state level, have added protections for people with disabilities, as well as veterans and service members.

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Elon’s proposed ordinance would be meaningless as it applies to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and military service. Federal and state laws already prohibit such discrimination.

What is new, however, is the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity.

What Ray really wants to do is add gay and transgender rights into a list of protected nondiscrimination categories within the town of Elon.

And he should at least be forthcoming enough to say so. Oh, sure, there are a few other “protected classes” thrown into the mix – at least based on various draft ordinances that the town has collected for consideration – but the real, underlying objective is to add gay and transgender rights.

Ray’s real objective is also obvious from the fact that the “model ordinance” that he provided to the town came from Equality NC, the state’s leading LGBTQ organization, which also maintains a political action committee to funnel contributions to those politicians who support its agenda.

In addition to the major classifications, the various options being considered in Elon also include a few new categories that are basically included as camouflage to obscure the real purpose.

Among the secondary categories not already covered by state or federal law are natural hair or hairstyles.

In those cities that have done so, most advocates have been honest enough to state that gay and transgender rights was the focus of their intention.
Ray should fess up as well.

A word about Ray. He’s an avowed activist. The trouble is that he is an avowed Democratic Party activist on what is, ostensibly, a non-partisan board of aldermen.

In a meeting last November, after the election, Ray spoke at a gathering of like-minded liberal activists, mostly Democrats, in a postmortem about the 2020 election and looking to the future, as well.

In addition to criticizing Democratic candidate Bob Byrd as having been too quiet and timid during his previous term as a commissioner, Ray urged his fellow activists to use the off-year municipal elections in 2021 to “infiltrate” local city councils, specifically listing Burlington, Graham, and Mebane.

His exhortation for “infiltrating” other municipal boards should be fair warning enough of the potential battleground that ostensibly non-partisan local elections may become this year.

In the meantime, Ray wants the town of Elon to join a relatively short list of North Carolina cities and towns that have adopted such gay/transgender ordinances since January: Hillsborough, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, and Asheville.

Back in 2017, the General Assembly prohibited cities from adopting nondiscrimination ordinances that went beyond the categories already protected at the state level, but that provision expired at the end of 2020. Historically, nondiscrimination statutes have been done at the federal and state levels.

In essence, the potential Elon ordinance – like those in other cities – is a remedy in search of a problem.

This newspaper covers the Elon board of aldermen every month. There have been no reports about problems with widespread, or even singular, evidence of discrimination against gay or transgender individuals within the town.

For heaven’s sake, it’s a liberal college town, after all – surely the most liberal municipality in the county.

But here’s the lurking danger that could tie up the town – and others that have adopted similar provisions – in costly litigation for years to come.

Most of the ordinances enacated by the cities that have adopted them provide no exemptions based on moral, conscience, or religious scruples or belief.

Churches, business owners, or others who believe, for instance, that homosexuality is a sin may not want to hire someone whose lifestyle is contrary to their beliefs.

And the even greater danger is the harassment and cost that may result for business owners who want to uphold their personal beliefs and religious convictions.

How far would Elon go to prosecute offenders. A fine? If so, how much. How often?

Would the town even try to close down a business over the issue?

And who’s to decide whether, in fact, a violation occurred in the first place?

What kind of due process would be afforded?

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of a Christian baker in Colorado, for instance, to turn down a request to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. “These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market,” justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 7-2 opinion.

Yet without some exemption for conscience or religious belief, Elon’s ordinance would open up just those kinds of problems.

There’s a reason that neither the Congress nor the General Assembly have equated gay/transgender nondiscrimination with other forms.

If it were a simple problem, it could probably be done; in fact, it already would have been done.

In Ray’s mind, it is a simple proposition, but in reality it’s not.

Elon’s other aldermen need to tell their colleague to put aside his obsession with this kind of ordinance.

The board needs to move on to issues that actually affect a majority of people within the town.

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