Mississippi House Bill 1523: you be the judge

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Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

I would have posted this sooner, but I’ve been sort of busy. In fact, I just finished reading Mississippi House Bill 1523 — all 16 pages of it.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, the bill is also known as the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant just gave it his stamp of approval, meaning the new law will take effect this summer.

As written, the law both prohibits discrimination against people with deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions and allows them to discriminate against other groups based on those same beliefs and convictions.

As you can imagine, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD have had plenty to say about the issue. You can read their take on it here.

In black and white

Of course, their comments are based solely on their interpretation of the law. For those of you who want to form your own conclusions, I’ve included some relevant text from a copy of the bill reviewed by state legislators below.

In pertinent part, it says:

  • “Laws and government actions that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage and human sexuality will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse and peaceful society…”
  • “…it is possible for the government to recognize same-sex marriage without forcing persons with sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions to conform.”
  • “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth.”

But wait, there’s more…

The law bars the state government from taking action against anyone who, on the basis of their moral convictions or religious beliefs:

  • Refuses to perform surgery or provide any other treatment commonly administered to aid in a transgender individual’s transition.
  • Creates policy addressing a number of issues including but not limited to access to bathrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities.
  • Refuses to provide services associated with the celebration of certain marriages.

It also prohibits the state from punishing religious organizations or members of such organizations who, on the basis of strictly held religious or moral beliefs refuse to:

  • Preside at or authorize certain marriages.
  • Allow marriages to be held on their property.
  • Provide services for certain marriages.

Finally, the law allows state employees who are authorized to issue marriage licenses to request permission to recuse themselves in instances contradictory to their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The same stipulation applies to state employees who are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.

Think about it

Clearly this is a highly controversial and emotionally charged issue. Those of you who know me personally or who have been following this blog for any length of time know that I have strong feelings about it. After all, laws like this directly affect someone who I once loved and will always care for.

But the bottom line is that when it comes to issues like this, there are always two sides to every story. And there are never any easy answers. So I will leave it at that. For now.

 

 

The folly of forced tolerance: analyzing the fallout from HB2

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The pressure on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory shows no signs of letting up. If anything, it’s growing.

Since HB2, which prevents municipalities in the state from creating their own rules to protect members of LGBT community, became law last week, McCrory has faced considerable corporate and public backlash. The ACLU also jumped into the fray by filing a lawsuit in response to the new law earlier this week.

Now Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has piled on by prohibiting publicly funded travel to the Tar Heel State.

“This law is not just wrong, it poses a public safety risk to Connecticut residents traveling through North Carolina,” Malloy said in a Hartford Courant story published yesterday. Essentially, the law puts everyone who goes there at risk, as well as those who live there, Malloy added.

According to published reports, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also taken steps to prevent “all nonessential, publicly funded travel” to North Carolina.

Yesterday, McCrory indicated that he’s had enough and fought back by calling his critics a bunch of hypocrites. If you haven’t already, you can read exactly what he had to say  in Politico by clicking the link in the preceding paragraph.

Sad But True

No one is disputing that it is the government’s job to protect vulnerable citizens. Sadly, no one can deny that we need tough laws to combat hate crimes and other heinous behavior that has no place in a civilized society.

From what I’ve read — and trust me, I’ve read a lot over the last week or so — I don’t think McCrory is denying any of that, either. It seems to me that the issue at the heart of the matter is not whom to protect, but how to protect everyone. What can be done — or more importantly — what should be done to balance LGBT rights with the general public’s rights?

Wrong Answer

Clearly North Carolina lawmakers came up with an imperfect solution — and McCrory didn’t do himself any favors by signing such a flawed bill into law.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As far as I am concerned, the state has every right to regulate what transpires in its own facilities. So if the state wants to pass laws prohibiting transgender individuals from using restrooms that match their gender identities in state-owned buildings, so be it. If the state wants to pass laws calling for the creation of “gender neutral” restrooms in state-owned buildings, fine.

But allowing the state to prohibit individual municipalities from creating and enforcing their own rules regarding who can use which bathrooms is ridiculous.

If North Carolina communities are even remotely like those that I covered as a government reporter in New York, Connecticut and Virginia, each one has a town council, a city council or a similar governing body. Among other things that governing body, working with the mayor or town manager,  and municipal attorney is tasked with creating the rules and regulations (ordinances) for that community. Whenever a new rule is proposed, there is a series of public discussions. During those discussions — usually held at regularly scheduled meetings or special hearings — residents  can share their comments, concerns and opinions. Representatives from other groups that could potentially be impacted by the new rules — can also speak during that time.

In other words, it is an incredibly comprehensive process where everyone has an opportunity to have their say before the governing body votes on the matter. And that’s exactly as it should be.

A Losing Battle?

Figuring out how to balance the rights of the LGBT community with those of the general public is a dilemma that local and state lawmakers across the country have already grappled with, and it is one that more will face as the push for LGBT rights continues.

Figuring out how to put an end to the ignorance and hate that plagues so much of this country is another matter altogether. The only way to start is to encourage an open, honest and objective dialogue. That means taking emotion out of the equation. And therein lies the problem. Human beings are inherently emotional animals. Hate is an incredibly powerful emotion. So is fear.

So our options are limited. But I firmly believe the following:

  • We can and should continue to put laws on the books to discourage hateful people from acting on their feelings.
  • We can and should continue to ensure that harsh penalties are in place for those who do.
  • We can and should create and fund programs that promote understanding, compassion and tolerance.
  • We can and should instill those values in our children.
  • Instead of focusing on our similarities, we can and should learn to respect each others’ differences — even if we don’t understand them.
  • We can and should lead by example.

Regretfully I also believe that at the end of the day, we can’t morally or legally force anyone to exercise tolerance, compassion or understanding if they lack the basic desire or ability to do so.

And as far as I’m concerned, to think otherwise is sheer folly.

 

Uproar over HB2 hits close to home

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I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband in years. But at times like this — when controversy erupts over LGBT rights — I can’t help but think of him. Or should I say, her?

Long Before There Was Chaz or Caitlyn…

For those of you who don’t know, my ex-husband, Adam, is transgender. So he’s Audrey now. Or more accurately, she’s Audrey now.

I learned the truth about the person I once considered my best friend and soul mate shortly after our second wedding anniversary. By that time we had been together for the better part of 10 years. And no. Until that point I never had a clue.

Book Cover

Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that the person I planned to have children and grow old with would have such a devastating, heartbreaking secret. As Adam and I exchanged vows during our nationally televised, fairy-tale wedding at the Hampton Classic Horse Show, I had no reason whatsoever to think we would be divorced less than three years later.

That’s exactly what happened, though.

After we agreed to go our separate ways, Adam moved to another part of the country where he continued his transition. Eventually he went overseas to have surgery to complete the process. When he returned, he was no longer the man I married.

Eventually I rebuilt my own life. I moved to Virginia, where I spent more than eight years working at what had once been one of the best suburban newspapers in the state. It was during that time that I also decided to share my story in my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey.

I want to be crystal clear about that. I wrote my book in order to tell my story. Not Audrey’s story. Mine.

That being stated, I also had a lot of unanswered questions. I told Audrey as much while I was writing the book. I asked if I could interview her — if she wanted to share her perspective. She refused.

So Much for That

That was years ago and I haven’t spoken to her since. Quite frankly, there’s nothing left to say.

So I have no idea what she thinks about North Carolina House Bill 2 and the backlash that it has triggered.

To be honest, I am not all that sure what I think about the issue, either.

On the surface it seems simple. No one should be fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms matching their gender identity, individual communities should be allowed to pass laws that allow them to do so, and the state should not be able to enact legislation that bars municipalities from doing so.

But of course, it’s not that simple. It never is.


For more information about HB2, see:

ACLU Sues Over Controversial Transgender Bathroom Law

N.C. governor signs bill repealing Charlotte transgender bathroom law

Tech Giants Join Rebuke of Law Blocking LGBT Rights