Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Bias protection non sequiturs

While the Virginia House of Delegates has spent the past couple of years maniacally and redundantly legislating their contempt for gay people, the Senate has on occasion drawn a line. That's why, when I read the other day that the Senate was going to consider a bill to prohibit anti-gay discrimination in state and local government employment, I thought there was a chance that it might get somewhere.

I was wrong. A Senate committee killed the bill today ( by a vote of 8–6. But never mind that. I want to draw your attention to two classic examples of non sequitur uttered by opponents of the bill.

Jack Knapp of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists said, "We feel the activity is against the teaching of word of God, and that settles it for us." How does he get from that belief to wanting to preserve the right of government managers to discriminate against gay civil servants? According to almost any Christian I've ever heard discuss the subject, everyone is a sinner. Does Mr. Knapp think that no one is worthy of employment?

As reported in the Washington Post on Monday, Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation in Richmond declared that "this is another legislative attempt to force people to believe that homosexuality is as immutable as the color of a person's skin." Although I could easily wrap a whole discussion around her assumption that homosexuality can be changed ("[f]ormer homosexuals would state they made a choice to enter and to leave this lifestyle"), that's not the part I'm interested in at the moment. The only way to make sense of Ms. Cobb's remark is to see behind it a premise that anti-bias laws should only protect personal characteristics that can't be changed. That premise leads to a couple of unsettling corollaries.

  1. Being Christian is a mutable characteristic. People come into and leave Christianity all the time. Can we expect Ms. Cobb to campaign for the repeal of laws protecting Christians against bias?

  2. Ms. Cobb's premise holds troubling implications about why we prohibit bias. I've always believed that it's wrong to discriminate against whole classes of people because (a) it's unethical, unfair, (b) it's arrogant and mean-spirited, and (c) there's no sense to it: people should be evaluated on their individual merits, not as part of a group. Ms. Cobb seems to feel that nondiscrimination laws people who are different "because they can't help it," so to speak. Since, in her mind, gay people can help it, they merit no protection.

    Well, imagine someone arguing, "Gay people have certain inferior characteristics, and since those people can choose not to be gay, we should be free to discriminate against them. Black people also have certain inferior characteristics, but they can't help it, poor things, so it would be wrong to hold it against them, and we should protect them from bias." Does that sound convincing to you?

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