Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Misplaced Priorities, Absent Logic

Today's Commercial Appeal explores the legislative priorities that Ninth Congressional District candidate, former Mayor Willie Herenton, plans to emphasize in his campaign. The beginning of Herenton's campaign seemed focused more on racial polarization than on legislative priorities, so news of a campaign platform is a good sign. In particular, his interest in increasing funding and opportunities for pre-school and post-secondary education would go far to lift people out of poverty and grow the economy in the Ninth District. As a progressive voter, I was pleased to hear him champion this issue.

However, my heart sank as I kept reading.

Herenton's list of legislative priorities includes education, same-sex marriage, abortion, healthcare, deficit, seniors & social security, jobs and the economy, energy, and crimes.

Take a moment to reflect on the order of this list. Who can be certain if this list of legislative priorities is ranked in order of importance, but "same-sex marriage" is second on Herenton's list. With all that is going on today in this country, is "same-sex marriage" really the second most important issue on the minds of Ninth District voters --- before healthcare and jobs and the economy?

Even those who don't support marriage equality might find it troubling that same-sex marriage is #2 on Herenton's list of legislative priorities. Tennesseans voted to add discriminatory language to the state constitution in 2006 that prohibits recognition of marriages of gay couples in this state. So why is Herenton raising this issue when it was settled in Tennessee 4 years ago with 80% of the vote?

Herenton's continued high-profile inclusion of marriage discrimination in his legislative priorities disappoints, but look closely at what he says about it:

I am unalterably opposed to same-sex marriage base [sic] on my personal values and religious foundation. However, I also opposed any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The above statement makes no sense. The second sentence does not logically follow the first. If Herenton opposes any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, then he would support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Denying gay couples the right to marry and denying recognition of a gay couple’s marriage license from another state is discrimination based on sexual orientation. Plain and simple.

The above statement begs important questions.

How do Herenton's personal values and religious foundation allow him to support legislation that promotes LGBT-inclusive employment protections? Faith leaders in the last several decades began to recognize the need for equal protection in employment for LGBT workers, but it has not always been this way.

On what rational basis does civil marriage equality violate his personal values and religious foundation? No church is required to perform any civil marriage – gay or straight – even in states where marriage equality is the law. Churches and other religious organizations are free to deny their blessing of a marriage on any grounds. But is the government?

Examples in current law are helpful in illustrating this troubling position. In this country, it is currently illegal to discriminate against a person applying for a job because of their race or religious affiliation. Our society has made it clear that a black person can apply for any job and have a legal recourse if they are not hired because of the color of his or her skin. The law also protects job applicants from being discriminated against because they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.

While it has not always been so, it is illegal in this country to refuse a marriage license to inter-racial or inter-faith couples. A black person can marry a white person. A Christian can marry a Jew.

Our society and government have determined that there is no rational basis for denying employment or a marriage license to persons because of their race or religion. Rational arguments now favor extending equal protections in employment and marriage for sexual orientation.

Herenton owes voters in the Ninth District a rational explanation of his position. First, why is marriage discrimination in his list of legislative priorities? Second, how does he explain his dissonant view on LGBT equality?

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