Vigilance urged on sexual orientation, gender identity bills
February 20, 2020
Two state legislative bills that focus on gender identity and sexual orientation appear unlikely to be passed into law this year, but they still warrant Nebraskans’ attention and vigilance, officials from the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) said.
Legislative Bill 873 would allow a third gender option on driver’s licenses and state IDs and make it easier to change a gender on birth certificates.
Legislative Bill 627 would create protected classes for sexual orientation and gender identity under anti-discrimination laws.
The proposals counter basic truths about human sexuality and would have practical, negative consequences for the individuals they purport to help, for people of faith and the general public.
That’s the view shared by NCC officials, the director of the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation, and a national authority on Catholic bioethics.
Sexual orientation and gender identity laws don’t protect the rights of all, as some would claim, “but instead violate the rights of some to serve the interests of others, and falsely redefine the very meaning of ‘rights,’ ” said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.
Measures like those being proposed in Nebraska could violate individuals’ privacy rights, punish small business owners who have beliefs incompatible with such laws and threaten religious freedom and free speech rights, Father Pacholczyk said.
LB873 and LB627 are part of a continued push by a “small but mighty force of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists” “who have a radically different worldview on the nature of marriage and human sexuality,” said Tom Venzor, NCC executive director. “This is a clash of orthodoxies. … And they’re going to continue to make a push.”
LEGISLATIVE BILL 873 – GENDER IDENTITY
LB873, which would allow gender changes to state IDs and birth certificates, was introduced Jan. 9 by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha.
The NCC testified against it at a Jan. 29 hearing, though the organization, which represents the public policy interests of Nebraska’s three dioceses, agreed with some arguments put forth by the bill’s supporters.
“Proponents of LB873 would argue that the bill is motivated by a desire to affirm the equal dignity of and society’s respect for persons who feel a sense of incongruence between their biological sex and the gender with which they identify, often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and of being unaccepted,” Marion Miner, NCC’s associate director for Pro-Life and Family,” said at the hearing.
“Love, compassion and respect for such persons, who are our brothers and sisters, along with an affirmation of their equal dignity and worth, is due them. With this affirmation we fully agree.
“We also agree that the way our society addresses and cares for such persons is inadequate,” Miner said. “Those who have adopted a ‘transgender’ identity are, in many cases, either told to embrace their new identity, despite its incongruence with their physical body, or they are held at arm’s length. Both responses are inadequate, and neither is deemed acceptable by the church. If we are to treat these brothers and sisters of ours with the compassion and respect that is due to them, we owe them first of all the truth.”
Miner pushed for senators to “indefinitely postpone” LB873, citing potential problems if the bill is enacted.
“The issue with allowing a third option on a driver’s license doesn’t seem too harmful at first glance,” said Craig Dyke, director of the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation.
“The passing of legislation, however, can send the message that a behavior, action or lifestyle is now morally acceptable. Just as pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and pro-capital punishment legislation over the years has seemed to bring about a certain amount of legitimacy to the ending of human life, legislation that would allow men and women to legally identify as something contrary to their biological sex sends the message that it is perfectly acceptable to alter one’s maleness or femaleness, and those who voice opposition are painted as bigots,” he said.
The legislation also would contradict “the gift of the complementarity of the sexes, which in turn would undermine the unique gifts that both sexes provide to society,” Dyke said.
LB873 would make it significantly easier to make a birth certificate gender change. Current Nebraska law allows a person a new birth certificate if that person obtains notarized confirmation from a doctor who performed sex reassignment surgery and a certified copy of a court order.
LB873 would allow a person to amend an existing birth certificate in a much easier process: with an affidavit from a doctor saying the change “is warranted” and includes “documentary evidence to substantiate such an amendment,” or with a simple court order.
“It is not difficult to foresee that courts will simply rubber-stamp these petitions in order to avoid the backlash that would come from denying them,” Miner said.
LB873 also would give male student athletes an easier way to compete in female sports, he said.
In 2016 the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) created a policy that would make athletes eligible for a sport based first on the sex on their birth certificates, and if a discrepancy was found, a male would have to complete either a year of hormonal treatment or have had sex reassignment surgery, among other things.
LB873’s easier route to changing the sex on a birth certificate “would allow students to sidestep the whole NSAA policy requiring that these young men take measures to reduce the significant physical advantages they have over female athletes,” Miner argued at the bill’s hearing.
“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field,” he said. “Forcing female athletes to compete against biological males is unjust and deprives them of athletic opportunity. … A male’s belief about his gender identity does not cancel out those physical advantages he has over girls, and every boy on the winner’s podium means one fewer girl.”
LB627 – ANTI-DISCRIMINATION DESIGNATIONS
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry gave LB627 a boost when it changed policy Jan. 30 by endorsing the bill, which would provide anti-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill, introduced last year by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, carried over into this year’s legislative session and is similar to legislation that state senators have debated in prior years.
Proponents say the measure would help recruit workers into the state.
The NCC, in opposing the bill at a Feb. 7 hearing, said LB627 would “ultimately harm economic freedom and target small businesses.”
“Policies like LB627 discriminate against people of faith and divide our communities,” the NCC’s Venzor argued. “Similar laws have hurt ordinary people … forcing them to fight for their freedom of conscience all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The anti-discrimination measure also could be “devastating for faith-based social service agencies which serve the state’s poor, vulnerable, and immigrant and refugee populations,” he said.
SWORD, NOT SHIELD
Both Venzor and Father Palcholczek pointed to laws elsewhere in the country that have been used “to punish” small-business owners whose beliefs don’t comply with others’ views on marriage, gender or similar issues.
Venzor said that nondiscrimination laws based on gender and sexual orientation are promoted as a “shield against discrimination,” but “they end up being a sword to go after those who disagree or have differing views on human sexuality and marriage.”
The bill doesn’t just address discrimination in the workplace but also would allow local municipalities to adopt nondiscrimination laws for housing and public accommodations. And the bill offers no meaningful protection for religious liberty, Venzor said.
LB627 isn’t needed to attract workers to the state or thrive economically, he said. “In fact, these types of laws are bad for business.”
A nondiscrimination law based on sexual orientation and gender “is not a key causal factor, or probably even really much of a contributing factor, as to whether somebody is going to come to a particular state or not,” Venzor. “They’re looking at other things,” like culture, housing market and schools.
“And I would also add on the flip side, that people come to Nebraska because we’re a state that has great values. We’re a state that has traditional family values, that recognizes the importance of marriage as an institution between one man and one woman … and that we are male and female. I would argue that the state respects the dignity of the human person and human sexuality.”