By David Lias
I miss the good ol’ days … those days of bomb shelters, civil defense warnings on television, elementary school showings of a movie telling us, as children, to duck and cover under our desks should the Soviet Union drop an atomic bomb on us.
Nothing seemed to unite us more than having an enemy we all could agree on. During those “good” times in the 1950s and 1960s, we had our sights set on those cold, bloodthirsty, godless Commies that were hell-bent on destroying our country. Or landing on the moon. Or both.
It inspired us to do what now seems nearly unthinkable – to, for example, start a manned space program in the late ‘50s that would land men on the moon in the late ‘60s. It is a fascinating achievement fueled, in part, by our need at the time to beat the Soviets in the space race.
At the same time, other cultural and societal advances were taking place. The country began to slowly realize that yes, integration would not tear our country apart, and that every American, despite their gender, color, or creed, is endowed with basic civil rights.
Today, with the Soviet Union just a memory, and Russia being so friendly to us that it provides the only way for American astronauts to get into space, it appears that many in the United States are losing that progressive focus.
So some of us have been on the hunt for a new “enemy” – some entity on which we can focus with such zeal that all of the other problems facing us seem minor.
This year, it appears we’ve found that new target. Many (not all, thankfully) South Dakotans have painted a big bulls eye on the backs of our fellow women and men with a sexual orientation other than hetero.
They have suddenly become the new Public Enemy Number One.
You’d think South Dakotans would feel safe from this “threat.” Back in 2006, a majority of our fine state’s voters approved South Dakota Amendment C, which states, “Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in South Dakota. The uniting of two or more persons in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other quasi-marital relationship shall not be valid or recognized in South Dakota.”
Evidently, that was not enough to calm our fears. It’s taken eight years, but the hysteria in our fine state has evidently grown to the point that some citizens, and some of our citizen lawmakers, believe that further legislative action is needed to deal with this so-call non-hetero menace that, wow, like just overnight appears to be plaguing us all.
Thankfully, there are currently enough legislators with enough common sense in Pierre right now to recognize that no such menace exists. After some proponent testimony in committee earlier this week that bordered on being loony at times, lawmakers effectively killed SB128.
This bill, introduced by Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, would have barred lawsuits against people for “expressing their religious beliefs on the subject of sexual orientation,” as long as they did not incite violence, and ordered the attorney general to defend anyone sued for that reason. It also would have given businesses the right to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation.
According to one of the proponents, Mark Chase, a pastor and president of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, “In our country, we should not have to fear that we’ll have retribution because we’ve expressed that something is wrong according to my religious faith.”
Chase and Jensen were evidently inspired to introduce this bill because they claim there are cases in Colorado and Oregon where individuals were sued for refusing to provide wedding cakes, flowers or other services for same-sex weddings.
Why these two men think there’s a threat of such a same-sex wedding fiasco happening in a South Dakota bakery or florist shop when there’s no possibility of a same-sex wedding happening in our state is a bit of a mystery.
Tom Barnett, executive director of the South Dakota State Bar, helped to set the record straight as he testified against the bill during its Feb. 18 committee meeting.
He noted that the Oregon and Colorado cases involved laws in those states that make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal. South Dakota has no such law.
“This legislation … does nothing,” Barnett said, describing how it simply is not needed to quell a “menace” that doesn’t exist (that’s my description, by the way).
“I am really appalled that we are considering something like this,” said Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton.
Sen. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, could find nothing good to say about the legislation, describing it as “a mean, nasty, hateful, vindictive bill.”
South Dakota is not alone in trying to paint LGBT citizens as the new enemy. There’s been legislation introduced this year in Michigan, Kansas, and Idaho that is just as appalling.
There is hope, however, that crazy state laws like this may someday no longer be proposed. The source of this positive anticipation comes bubbling up from – of all places – Congress.
The Senate voted last November to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, landmark civil rights legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in the workplace.
ENDA would outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability. Twenty-nine states currently have no laws protecting LGBT individuals in the workplace.
It’s the first time in history that the Senate has passed ENDA. The House passed a version of ENDA in 2007, but it did not include protections for transgender individuals.
We realize ENDA doesn’t address the issues that SB128 was intended to solve, but remember, SB128 was a piece of trash to begin with that never should have been introduced.
According to GLAAD, a LGBT media advocacy organization, ENDA will now go to the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner has stated his opposition to the bill, but there is significant pressure to bring the bill to a vote on the House floor.
ENDA is supported by a vast majority of Americans. More than 70 percent of Americans support federal workplace protections for LGBT people, according to GLAAD. Additionally, a majority of Americans in every state in the country support employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
We hope Speaker Boehner will recognize this legislation has merit, and should be allowed to come up for a vote in the U.S. House.
We also hope it will approved by our representatives in Congress. ENDA won’t change the attitudes of those in South Dakota who perceive LGBT people as some sort of enemy. It may, however, give them just a bit less ammunition to use the next time they take aim at their targets.