James Gill: Metro Council shows its lack of guts

Time ran out Wednesday before the Baton Rouge Metro Council could tell gay people to go to hell, but that is clearly what is going to happen at the next meeting in a couple of weeks.

We can only hope the council will content itself with a display of honest bigotry and move on to a different topic after rejecting the anti-discrimination ordinance. It would be a Christian act to spare us the hypocritical pieties to which politicians are prone.

The mealy-mouthed resolution Councilman Ryan Heck proposes to offer in place of the ordinance is not only pointless but does such violence to the language that a recall petition would seem a mild response.

The resolution makes no reference to what the ordinance calls “gender identity or sexual orientation” and merely frowns on “unjust discrimination against any person whomsoever and of any kind whatsoever.” Heck claims to have been born and raised in Baton Rouge, but it is obvious from his English that he arrived by spaceship.

Heck describes his resolution as “a tremendous positive step in the right direction.” Pick through the tautologies, and you will find a lie. The resolution would have no legal force; it is a subterfuge, and a feeble one, at that. There cannot be a single person in Baton Rouge who believes it would deter discrimination against gay people, which, of course, is jake with opponents of the ordinance.

Heck says that the ordinance, in extending civil rights to gay people, might leave other classes unprotected. His concern is touching, although he doesn’t say what those classes might be. That is hardly surprising, because other forms of discrimination have long been outlawed. He fashions a resolution that protects nobody and calls it all-embracing.

The council should have the guts to vote the ordinance down without going along with this pretense. If the Heck resolution is intended as a sop to gay people, it isn’t going to work. If they are to be denied the same rights as everyone else, throwing them a bone will be seen as just another insult.

The doomed ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, was denounced at Wednesday’s hearing as an assault on religious freedom, which has become the pet rallying cry of the excitable right. In fact, the ordinance merely provides civil remedies for gay people who suffer discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations. It exempts religious organizations and schools affiliated with them and poses no threat to anyone’s First Amendment rights.

A slew of pastors urged the council in a letter to reject the ordinance and “gently remind our homosexual friends of the long range and life disrupting implications of this dangerous lifestyle.”

A fat lot of good that would do. Their biblical exhortations, moreover, do not belong in the secular arena. The principle that all are equal before the law must override sectarian dogma. It is, in any case, an odd faith that requires its adherents to create a second class of citizenship.

By no means all religious leaders in Baton Rouge advocate discrimination against gay people, and our more enlightened business owners have come out in favor of the ordinance, too. Other Southern cities, including New Orleans and Shreveport, have opted to give gay people an even break. So long as Baton Rouge is not among them, it will inevitably be regarded as yahoo city and pay an economic price as talent chooses to live elsewhere.

But the reactionary forces are clearly in the ascendancy. This comes as no surprise, since the council in recent years has declined to adopt even nonbinding resolutions disapproving discrimination. The Marcelle ordinance was clearly far too progressive to be stomached hereabouts.

Maybe Heck’s could be the first gesture to pass muster on the council, but it would be so empty and disingenuous that it might be better to forget all about it and gently remind our LGBT friends of the long-range and life-disruptive implications of remaining in Baton Rouge.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.