Thursday, May 10 2007

Non-Discrimination, Sexual Orientation, and the Politics of Groups

Sorry for the delay in posting serious posts.  Work took a while to catch up on.

Recently, there has been talk of expanding anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.  My interest in in this debate is in the political and cultural implications of legally favoring certain groups.  My concern is that the practice of legally favoring certain groups with special statuses creates impossible to resolve legal complications and paves the way for government social engineering.  By allowing groups to play politics with special statuses, we increase the amount of corruption and destructive political infighting in society.

Quick theoretical question:  It has recently been established that employers in states with "at-will" labor laws can fire people for any reason except membership in a protected class, such as gender or race.  Some examples of this rule in use are businesses firing employees for smoking at home, on the grounds that smoking is a health risk.  Suppose I am an employer in a state with "at-will" labor laws and anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation as a protected class.  I put in effect a policy that my company will not employ any man that has had sex with another man, citing health reasons relating to the spread of blood-borne diseases and as part of a larger set of policies relating to minimizing workplace exposure to communicable diseases, something akin to the list of restrictions on who may donate blood.  Further, I enforce these policies evenly as written.  Am I discriminating against homosexual men on the basis of sexual orientation?

The problem is this: If, legally, I am discriminating against homosexual men, then a religious conservative can look at that policy and see government protection afforded to a particular behavior, and particularly a sexual behavior, not some vague "sexual preference" protection.  I look at the current legal climate and don't see how such a policy could be viewed as anything other than discrimination.

Although Catholic, and someone who believes in the fundamental tenants of his faith, I'm a libertarian, a Heinlein fan, and an anime fan.  I don't care what you do in the privacy of your own home as long as the others involved are able to give proper consent.  I am unlikely to ever get even a date, so it's all academic to me anyways.

I see a growing split in America between the faithful religious and the secular intellectual, and I see that both sides have their own valid points.  To some degree, I think I have a foot in both worlds, and the annoying tendency to just ignore the obvious contradictions between my own principles.

One of my friends teaches school.  He's big on encouraging his kids to read.  He's not religious himself.  He occasionally brings up stories of one of his evangelical Christian co-workers that is vehemently protesting the presence of Harry Potter books in the school. To my friend, this is a travesty.  He sees kids wanting to read, and the popularity of the Harry Potter series as a good starting point, and thinks his evangelical co-worker is  ruining a good thing for no reason.  And my friend isn't alone.  In a recent survey, 53% of university professors though poorly of evangelical Christians.

I recently thought about the situation and came up with an explanation for behavior like that of my friend's co-worker.  Evangelical Christians are trying to fight the culture war by the same unwritten rules that the secular intellectuals have been using.  It has been established that if you don't like something in your kids' school, be it prayers at graduation or the pledge of allegiance, if you throw enough of a fit, the school system will give in.  Evangelical Christians have seen things they approve of removed from the system in this manner.  If that's a valid way of getting things removed, they should be able to use it to their advantage, so they throw a fit about Halloween, Harry Potter, and Evolution.

And therein lies the problem.  You can't satisfy everyone's wants.  If schools are able to teach values, why should one set of values be taught over another?  Who decides which values are the correct ones?  And as long as the religious faithful feel they are losing, they are either going to push back politically harder to get their way, or change the system in their favor.

Which brings us back to the politics of sexual orientation and of groups in general.  Evangelical Christians see a group gaining government enforced protection on the basis of what they see as sexual behavior, and get indignant that the privileges they have are being taken away, and this drives the destructive political split in American culture.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 54 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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