William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Loving Our Neighbor And Discrimination Against Gays

The comment was made:

"I was not alive during state sanctioned segregation, so I don't really have an understanding willful ignorance/willful stupidity and willful absurdities concerning bigots. I admit a few years ago I made statements that hate crimes legislation gave special privileges (though I had never read proposed wording of hate crimes legislation).

However, when I read the initial article about SLC adding to/adopting anti-discrimination policies in employment and housing, I immediately read the ordinance and quickly realized the ordinance was nuetral - that is, the ordinance does not provide special treatment to one class of persons, but rather provides preferential treatment to all.

At the moment all I can think of is the teaching Christ gave about "when I was naked ye clothed me, when I was hungered ye feed, when I was [homeless] ye took me in", in light of that message - the least of these thy brethern - and considering the universality of the "love thy neighbor" it really does boggle my mind that people feel so wronged and make such outlandish claims of "our freedom hangs in the balance" when it comes to having laws which support the very notions Christ taught.

edited to confirm implication

Just to be clear I consider anyone who discriminates in employment on anything other than essential job function qualifications to be a bigot. I consider a person who discriminates in housing on a basis of sexual preference to be a bigot - excluding housing discrimination by one seeking live in roommates."

To which I responded:

Disclaimer: I have not read the subject ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals.

Laws forbidding discrimination can sometimes be a gray issue. On one hand, people should generally be permitted to live as their conscience dictates. On the other hand, doing so will sometimes have a negative impact on others, and a balance must be struck in determining how much license each person should have in making their own decisions. Most LDS probably support laws which forbid evangelical Christian employers from refusing to hire LDS on religious grounds (I, for one, support such laws), but it is interesting to observe how so many conservative Mormons are apparently unwilling to extend the same principles to the protection of homosexuals.

It seems to me that the real root of the issue is that, in the minds of these conservative Mormons, a person's choice to adhere to most religions other than Mormonism could be made in good faith, whereas active homosexuals "ought to know" that their lifestyle choice is sinful and cannot be morally justified under any reasonable conscience which a person might have. I think the LDS conservatives conclude (perhaps subconsciously) from this distinction that the line between permissible and impermissible discrimination ought to be drawn at the outer limits of reasonable conscience. Where the person being discriminated against engages in activities, or holds beliefs which no reasonable conscience would tolerate, then discrimination on that basis should be permitted; where reasonable minds might disagree on the acceptability of certain beliefs or conduct, then discrimination on the basis of such beliefs or conduct is more subject to government regulation.

True, I have oversimplified a very complex issue. To be fair, I agree with much of the concept I set forth in the proceeding paragraph, execpt that I believe homosexuals very often are justified in having homosexual relationships. For biological, psychological, and physiological reasons which I do not fully comprehend, it appears many homosexuals will have homosexual desires throughout mortality. The solution is not for homosexuals to live lives of miserable, agonizing celibacy, but rather for them to find loving, respectful, responsible relationships to allow them to be as happy as possible during mortality, and I leave it to God to figure out what happens after this life.

All of that said, I still believe there are reasonable limits within which discrimination against homosexuals should be legal. Examples include: (1) non-profit organizations ought to have plenary power to deny employment to homosexuals (i.e., the LDS Church should never be forced to hire homosexuals if it offends its religious tenets); (2) perhaps very small employers (say, 1 to 5 employees) should have the right to refuse to hire homosexuals; (3) landlords who want to rent out part of their own dwelling space, and perhaps also landlords who live in very close proximity to a dwelling space to be rented out and there are a very small number of units, should be allowed to refuse to rent out to homosexuals. The rationale for these latter two examples is that "now it's personal"; not only would the employer/landlord be providing a job or liviing quarters to the person against whom they wish to discriminate, but now they also will be much more likely to have to interact with them. But on the whole, for larger, more institutional, for-profit employers and landlords, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation ought to be legally prohibited. To allow such discrimination by these larger, more powerful groups unjustifiedly increases the risk that the powerful will ultimately suppress the conscience of the weak. Not only that, but their interest in discriminating is much less than the three examples I listed above, and so the balance of interests favors prohibiting, rather than permitting, discrimination on sexual orientation grounds; larger groups and interests' main motivation is generally profit, rather than furthering a privately-held moral agenda.

CAVEAT: nothing in this email constitutes my endorsement of discrimination against homosexuals-- only the legalization of such discrimination. It is neither practical, nor feasible, nor possible, nor desirable, to attempt to outlaw all behavior (i.e., invidious discrimination) which we believe is morally wrong (that is one reason, for example, why I support first-trimester abortion rights, even though I personally believe abortion is generally imprudent if not morally wrong). In our democracy, we must make the compromise of recognizing that it is often necessary to allow others to exercise their own conscience even though it offends our own. There is a legitimate line to draw in limiting this principle- where a person's choices clearly and unjustifiedly cause a negative impact on others, but no one has yet shown me any solid evidence that consensual, responsibly-conducted homosexual behavior has a significant, objectively harmful impact on society (let alone employers or landlords).

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