The Shelby County non-discrimination ordinance had its first reading today in the General Government committee of the Shelby County Commission. The discussion of the ordinance lasted two hours and was contentious. At first, it appeared there would be no discussion, but a motion for the previous question early in the meeting was ruled out of order, which meant that discussion had to proceed. We managed to provide updates on Twitter for most of the discussion.
There was a motion to amend the ordinance to cover only County government employees and the motion passed. The motion on the amended ordinance was 5 for, 5 against, and 2 abstaining, which amounts to an unfavorable recommendation from the committee. Nevertheless, the full Commission will consider the ordinance during their meeting on Monday at 1:30, as the Commercial Appeal reports today.
A lot of the opposition argument hinges on the false notion that one's sexual orientation is a choice and a bad choice at that. It's simply preposterous to assert that one chooses to which sex one is attracted. Even the old and un-p.c. phrase "sexual preference" gave a nod to the fact that it's not a choice. Now the key term among the opposition is "lifestyle." I've known hundreds of people in the GLBT community and I couldn't begin to tell you what the typical lifestyle is for this diverse group. We are part of every racial and ethnic group, every faith tradition, every socio-economic background, and we live in every part of the world. Lifestyle doesn't fit, but our opponents use it because they want to focus on "behaviors." The only behaviors that are relevant in the discussion of a non-discrimination ordinance are job performance and whether hiring, promoting, and firing based on these factors is rational. There is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity affects job performance.
Many of the comments in the debate show a profound misunderstanding and fear and, hence, illustrate the need for the ordinance. The socially conservative religious community has shown its muscle and put a big dent in the momentum for the ordinance. But the email traffic, I'm told, is overwhelmingly in favor of the ordinance. We are hopeful that we can move a couple of votes between now and Monday. Stay tuned.