by Mark Tooley
In his State of the Union address early this year, President Clinton asked Congress to ratify the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban “discrimination” based on sexual orientation. Sexual “preference” would join the litany of other legally protected minority categories based on race, gender, age, religion, or physical disability. “Sexual minorities,” no less than ethnic or racial minorities, would become a new federally protected class entitled to their fair share of societal sanction and subsidy.
The President, by executive decree, has already banned discrimination based on sexual orientation among the federal government’s 2.9 million civil servants. In a House of Representatives vote last year, 63 Republicans joined 189 Democrats in refusing to overturn the federal order.
At least ten states have adopted ENDA-type legislation, as have numerous city governments.
Rhetoric among ENDA’s supporters about minority rights is politically savvy. After all, who is in favor of “discrimination”? But it is deeply deceptive. The push for such legislation has little to do with genuine concern about workplace prejudice. Outside of the military and the Church, where do homosexuals typically face workplace barriers? Market surveys show that homosexuals, on average, have higher incomes than the average household. The real objective of “equal rights” legislation for homosexuals is to overthrow our society’s few remaining barriers to full acceptance of homosexual behavior and other non-traditional sexual practices.
Specifically, ENDA is wrong for several reasons. First, it gives legal protection to a behavior that Christianity and Judaism (along with most religions) have historically taught is morally destructive. Traditional religions cite heterosexual marriage as the ideal for sexual expression. Sex is not simply a recreation or a “lifestyle.” It is a powerful force with great capacity for good or evil. History shows that full sexual liberation, shorn of all taboos, leads not to freedom but anarchy. A national policy that treats sexual practice as no different from ethnic identity would emasculate traditional moral restraints regarding sexuality.
Second, if ENDA’s goal is to codify protection for homosexuality, why not enact similar legislative protection in the workplace for adulterers or aficionados of pornography? Why discriminate against their preferences, which are probably a lot more common than homosexuality? Some local versions of ENDA-type legislation speak only of “orientation” and perhaps will ultimately do just that. ENDA, in its proposed version before Congress, does specifically mention homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality. But definitions of all three, especially of bisexuality, can be fluid. What if one’s practice of any one of these three included sadomasochism and one wished to advertise it in the workplace? Could an employer object? The overall thrust of ENDA, even if enforced benignly, will be to sexualize the workplace and erase boundaries between private and professional lives.
Third, sexual conduct is the product of free will and not an immutable, morally neutral characteristic such as ethnicity or gender. Even if sexual orientation were genetically predetermined, for which the evidence is indeterminate, the capacity for free choice in terms of behavior remains. Only a complete nihilist would advocate the equality of all behaviors in the same way that we should affirm racial or gender equality.
Fourth, expanding the language and legal definition of “rights” will further dilute the protection of legitimate freedoms. Legally compelling citizens to accept exotic sexual behavior is the desired goal of some, but it is not a “right” in the same essential sense as free speech or freedom of religion. “Rights” have developed historically as safeguards against a coercive state seeking politically or economically to exploit its citizens. Imposing public acceptance of a traditional sexual taboo does not qualify as a “right” under any reasonable definition. Indeed, it would deprive many citizens of their own right to disapprove of some sexual practices.
Most of the resistance to the mainstreaming of homosexuality is based within America’s religious community. In fact, nearly all of America’s religious denominations—even its more liberal ones—officially disapprove of homosexual practice. Well-financed and well-organized campaigns to expunge the official teachings of mainline churches on sexuality have been repeatedly defeated by democratic votes.
The United Methodist Church reaffirmed its opposition to homosexual practice by a nearly 70 percent majority at its General Conference in 1996. The Presbyterians have adopted a new church law forbidding non-marital sexual behavior by their clergy. And last year, the worldwide communion of Anglican bishops, by a 70 percent majority, rejected any acceptance of homosexual practice.
But many mainline religious leaders support ENDA. Left-leaning church leaders, like liberal politicians, know they cannot gain full acceptance of homosexuality through the front door. Fighting the largely phantom threat of workplace discrimination has therefore become their obsession. In his testimony to the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee in 1996, National Council of Churches spokesman Oliver Thomas asked Congress to pass ENDA. Sexual orientation, he testified, is an intrinsic expression of human value. Any discrimination based on it is a “crime against God.”
Liberal church leaders, like their secular allies, ignore the fact that proponents of homosexuality and other forms of sexual liberation are largely free to conduct their personal lives as they please. They have not explained why persons who subscribe to more traditional beliefs about sexuality should be forced to subsidize or acclaim behavior that their conscience and traditional religious convictions persuade them is wrong.
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