Continuing a trend for decades as a result of Shreveport’s economic stagnation, too often the political establishment’s reaction to this slow wasting is to make reactive policy that concerns itself more with image than with beneficial substantive effect. Recent passage of the so-called “Fairness Ordinance” provides another example that does nothing helpful and, worse, creates a bad precedent in privileging certain behaviors with detrimental consequences to individual freedom.
The ordinance echoes parts of state law in that it disallows discrimination in provision of services or accommodations, hiring and applying personnel practices to hired employees, and renting and selling of real estate on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, age, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political or religious affiliations – but with sexual orientation and gender identity added as they appear nowhere under state law. It exempts businesses with fewer than eight employees, landlords of fewer than five units, and religious organizations.
Immediately striking is the intellectually slipshod way in which the protected classes are amalgamated. Most of the list concerns immutable factors about human beings – your DNA makes you of a certain race and sex and disability, your circumstances and life history determine your disability, origin, ancestry, and age – but also includes four behavioral attributes. While discrimination prohibition against what people are is of a grave concern to government, because they are what they are and there has to be an extraordinarily compelling reason to treat people different on that basis, in allowing government to specify acceptable attitudes and behavior in treating people differently on the basis of attitudes and expression of them through behavior invites tyranny and must have a high standard of proof to allow for it.
In the case of two of those behaviors, political and religious affiliations, the U.S. Constitution already protects them, with the First Amendment elevating them to very privileged status that affords little ability for government to regulate these areas. Just so: the very founding of the country emanated from intense belief in these freedoms, and thusly are civil liberties. But there’s nothing close to this imperative in the case of sexual orientation or gender identity, which involve not liberties but a question of assumed civil rights.
As medical science has confirmed consistently (despite the efforts of activists to find a “gay” gene, for example), neither of these lifestyle choices are biologically determined. But even if they were, what separates them from the rest of the list save the protected First Amendment attitudes is their expression is contingent on behavioral choices, where the individual has the innate choice to remove that expression from his public life (for example, priests who take their vows seriously do not behave sexually at all). So, there’s no compelling reason to privilege this kind of expression with civil rights protections that concerns traits not behaviors, putting it on par with the things about us we cannot change about ourselves and therefore should not be treated differently as a result and with the most fundamental expressive freedoms that we have.
Yet to sponsors Councilmen Oliver Jenkins and Jeff Everson, and to the remainder of the Council who voted for this save Ron Webb, they appear to say that government has the power, for example, to coerce employment in a child care center of someone, as long as he shows he is capable of the job, who openly advertises his membership in the North American Man/Boy Love Association, whose unorthodox sexual orientation is protected under the ordinance. Perhaps less dramatically, it could compel home health agencies to send males who feel their gender identity is female to female clients, disregarding entirely their clients’ sensibilities.
Further, in the works as a morality police behind the ordinance is an unelected Human Relations Commission that unlikely will be insulated from politics nor sufficiently limited in its powers to prevent government overreach in this policy area. But it would appear that Jenkins, Everson, et. al. have no qualms about empowering government and privileged groups at the expense of freedom generally.
Of course, the half-baked thinking behind this we must recognize is a product not of fact and logic, but of trendiness and panic. Some advocates of these kinds of laws argue that without them, certain members of a “creative class” will be turned off from wanting employment and living in a city. Yet this solution is waiting for a problem; if this ever has happened, it happens rarely because almost all employers, certainly among the larger, look not only at the bottom line first and foremost when it comes to employment decisions where capability trumps lifestyle choices, but also voluntarily state they don’t take these attitudinally-based behaviors into account in personnel decisions.
Understand that these image claims generally are self-fulfilling assertions of special interests seeking political power. They believe if they rant long and hard about this presumed disincentive, they can create the perception that anything less than this kind of law shows actual hostility to those who practice alternative lifestyles, making the prophecy of repelling these people come true and then presenting this as evidence that a policy agenda that serves to privilege their interests and empower them is needed to correct for this.
And this fooled the rubes on Shreveport’s City Council, and no doubt Mayor Cedric Glover as well (who could not override the measure given its supermajority anyway). Which writes another sad chapter into the city’s history as it struggles to progress away from its stagnancy: a city that, rather than make better spending choices such as not owning hotels and not financing sludge farms and not privileging contracting to certain groups but instead finds ways to cut taxes and spending, thinks that more growth comes from more government issuing more suffocating regulation without any compelling reason for it.