With the talk of nondiscrimination and religious liberty floating around, one piece of legislation has been quietly floating under the radar of many – Senator Jim Dabkis’ (Democrat – Salt Lake City) SB 99 – Public Accommodation Fairness Act.
The bill adds sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to the list of groups who are granted equal accommodation in businesses and public buildings.
Many conservatives view legislation such as this as an open door to allow gay men to walk into women’s restrooms or to force businesses to bake wedding cakes for gay couples.
The first point is a scare tactic from those who are too afraid of the LGBT community to bother to learn about the neighbors around them; the second is precisely on point and the entire reason for the legislation.
First, let’s address the concern that this legislation will let transgender women use their preferred restroom without restriction. The policy question we must ask is what harm is done by this action?
Currently, if a heterosexual man walks into a woman’s restroom, the blanket statement is that he is harassing women while doing so. But this isn’t necessarily the case: what if the man has his daughter with him and she is too young to go by herself? What if he has a medical emergency? What if the men’s room is occupied and the women’s room is vacant? There are several shades of nuance that can explain away the action and perhaps even justify it.
If the heterosexual man’s intent is to harass or harm, the law already has measures in place to deal with the situation.
In the case of the transgender woman, then, we must ask what the intention of the woman is, to use such a public facility. If we are being honest with ourselves, the reason is probably because, well, they need to use the restroom.
All Dabakis’ bill would do in this situation is state that a business or the State of Utah won’t harass the transgender woman when they do use the facility.
To the second (and far more important) point, this legislation would indeed prevent businesses from denying services simply because of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Now, more than ever, Dabakis’ bill is needed to clear up the ever murky waters surrounding this topic. Currently, the law favors public access over religious liberty, however locally as well as nationally, the topic is far from decided.
Depending on the form of religious liberty legislation that does or does not make it through the legislative process, it is quite possible that private enterprises would be able to deny members of the LGBT community based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Currently, religious rights are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution – however, one would be hard pressed to think that the founding fathers envisioned denying wedding cakes or bathroom privileges while enshrining religious liberties into the Bill of Rights. If the state places a greater emphasis on religious liberties without subsequent protections set forth in SB 99, it is quite possible that homophobia and wanton discrimination will simply be protected under the guise of “religious liberty.”
We need only hearken back to the days when there were white and black bathrooms, women couldn’t sign legal documents, or Mormons were denied the right to own property.
Given the current political climate, it is highly doubtful that SB 99 will advance out of rules – however it does mark a change in the way that the state views such issues. It is possible that in ten years, citizens will be asking why such legislation isn’t already on the books – just as we did when antidiscriminaton first made it on the books or as many citizens are stating now with expanded LGBT antidiscrimination.
To contact Senator Dabakis, click here or call 801-815-3533.
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