The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations committee heard SB 211 yesterday. The Employment Non-Discrimination for state government employees bill was authored by Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans and would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. After nearly an hour of testimony and questioning from the committee, the Bill was voluntarily deferred due to lack of a quorum. We will be returning at the next committee hearing for a final vote and pledge to repeat our arguments in support of this important legislation for those members not present today.
We would like to thank the many people who testified in support of the bill. Mary Griggs, Morris Welch of Metropolitan Community Church of Baton Rouge, Ted Baldwin, and a representative from AFL-CIO joined Sarah Jane Brady in speaking of the many reasons why the state should expand it’s employment non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The only opposition that spoke against SB 211 was from the Louisiana Baptist Convention. John Yeats highlighted the religious extremist views that are commonly made against expanding equality to include the LGBT community. With his usual style and humor, Sen. Edwin Murray of New Orleans challenged his bigotry and lies.
We are very grateful for Sen. J.P. Morrell authoring this important piece of legislation and are looking forward to the final vote in the upcoming committee hearing.
I’m posting here the testimony of Morris Welch to the Committee:
My name is Morris Welch and I represent the Metropolitan Community Church of Baton Rouge where I am a recent Board member, current Treasurer, choir member, and worship leader. I also represent our denomination’s affiliates elsewhere in Louisiana. Before retiring, I was also a state employee for 29 years.
Several years ago, Baton Rouge’s former Mayor Simpson issued an Executive Order banning discrimination in the employment practices of this city and parish. Upon taking office, Mayor Kip Holden reissued that order. Quoting from the city’s website, the policy declares that:
“We are an Equal Opportunity Employer. No employee or applicant shall be discriminated against in any terms, conditions, or privilege of employment because of race, sex, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, marital status, ancestry, sexual orientation, reprisal, or disability (physical or mental).”
Both the bill before you and the policies in Baton Rouge and some other Louisiana cities list a range of characteristics. Those traits are included on purpose because they have been the basis of most cases of discrimination. You may be asked today to make this bill a referendum about homosexuality. One often-used argument is that homosexuality is a choice, but current research strongly suggests that an attraction to one’s own gender has at least some basis in genetics. But clearly religion, as well as creed and marital status, are also individual choices.
In our church, there is a lady in her 70’s who was fired twice from public colleges in Louisiana because she is a lesbian. She would be here herself, but can’t for fear that someone at her current job might see or hear about her testimony. During most of my state employment, I was also afraid to reveal aspects of my personal life for similar reasons.
This bill would expand protections for state employees. It primarily tracks Executive Orders issued by previous governors Edwin Edwards and Kathleen Blanco. Some say it would be a major step down a slippery slope to the doom of this state and country. I say it is a minor step that simply recognizes the need for government to be impartial and to acknowledge the value of Louisiana’s employees including those who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
I agree that there may be a slope but it is upward and very steep and rugged. Our country’s highest founding principle is equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This country and this state have been clawing their way up that slope for many, many years. Someday we might reach that goal for all citizens rather than picking out selected minorities for discrimination. This bill would be but a tiny step. I strongly urge you to support this bill both with your vote in this committee and your influence in the full Senate and House.
Rebuttal on SB 211
Again, my name is Morris Welch.
Unfortunately, we see many conflicts around the world, both past and present, because of intolerance between faiths and ethnicities. That occurs when one group of citizens, not only ignores, but actively promotes, discrimination against other citizens without regard for the religious beliefs, basic civil rights, quality of citizenship, individual contributions, or even the basic humanity of people who don’t fit their mold.
It is true that our country has a tradition of faith, primarily Christian. It is also true that the founding fathers saw the folly in discriminating based on religious faith and in allowing religion to play too large a role in the halls of government. Discrimination against sexual minorities has its sole basis in the religious beliefs of one subset of people. Even in this conservative and slow-acting state, however, those folks are now a minority, but they are extremely vocal and continue to exert a highly disproportional influence on government policy. As a faithful Christian, I cannot understand how some people can take a few Old Testament passages and interpret them in ways that ignore much modern scriptural research. At the same time, they conveniently skip over many other scriptural prohibitions. And by promoting discrimination, I believe they are failing to obey Christ’s highest commandments.
This bill has nothing to do with religious beliefs. It does not promote homosexuality. It simply recognizes that sexual orientation, as well as the other listed characteristics, have nothing to do with job performance and therefore should not be valid criteria on which state agencies base their employment practices. Paraphrasing a recent letter in the local newspaper, I ask you to consider whose agenda is more American and more Christian. I ask you to reject the intrusion of religion on state policy and the conscious choice of one set of religious beliefs over those who believe differently. Again, I urge you to support this bill both in this committee and on the Senate floor.