The San Antonio City Council is debating whether it should update it's anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The move would make it illegal for landlords, businesses and the city to deny housing, services and, in the latter case, employment to people because they're gay or transgender. Dallas did the same thing more than a decade ago, albeit minus the gender identity part.
Much has changed since Dallas passed its ordinance in 2002. More than a dozen states have allowed gay marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lawbarring same-sex partners from receiving federal benefits. Support for LGBT rights has skyrocketed at the same time that tolerance has declined.
But not everything's changed. Flash back to May 8, 2002, and hear the Reverend Flip Benham, an influential evangelical pastor, addressing the City Council. "It's a travesty that breaks my heart," he told them. "The City Hall has declared itself as God. It's a direct attack on the word of God."
San Antonio's proposal is being attacked on similar lines, though with a shift from what God says to what the Constitution says. "It's a stifling of free speech," Steve Branson, a Baptist minister, explained to a local TV station.
"A religious view -- either you have one or you don't, it is still a religious view," he said. "And if I don't attain to their view, then I'm out of the picture completely."
Texas Values, one of the dominant social conservative groups in the state, elaborated on this in a call to arms posted yesterday on its website, calling the proposed ordinance an "unprecedented attack on religious liberty" and an attempt to "ban Christians from city government."
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Here's the basis for those claims:
The proposal would ban anyone that has ever opposed ("demonstrated bias, by word or deed ...") homosexuality from being involved in city government and/or performing a city contract/subcontract. The proposed ordinance provides no exemptions for religious beliefs on homosexuality, even beliefs expressed in Church.
Christianity has been clear on its teaching that homosexuality is a sin, a deviation from God's unique design of men and women, for over two thousand years. Both the Old and New Testaments attest to this viewpoint. This makes the likely consequences of this proposed ordinance clear to see: a complete ban of bible-believing Christians and faith-based businesses from participating in the city government.
It's a neat little trick, turning this from a discussion about protecting a class of people from unfair treatment into a parable of Christian persecution. But even if we accept Texas Values' premise that San Antonio's anti-discrimination ordinance is an assault on religious liberty -- and we don't -- it doesn't do much to help their case. Because look at the position they've staked out: that bigotry is fine so long as it's aimed at gay people and and God says it's OK.
As for the claim that such a measure would ban Christians from participating in city government, how do they explain Vonciel Hill's presence on the Dallas City Council?