An ordinance passed by the Phoenix City Council last night forces the city’s businesses, charities and churches to consider hiring transgendered people and requires them to recognize any gender expression, even if that means allowing a man to use the women’s restroom.
The bill, which passed 5-3, claims to protect against discrimination based on sexual preferences in public accommodations, housing, employment, and city contracts. But it also treads on the religious beliefs of business owners and organizations.
“When we looked at this law, we saw a number of problems for businesses, families, and churches,” said Aaron Baer, communications director at Center for Arizona Policy. “It creates a lot of potential situations that force people to violate their religious beliefs, businesses are open to frivolous law suits, and women and children are exposed to uncomfortable situations.”
Baer said these problems have already arisen in the other cities where similar policies have passed. In Olympia, Wash., a 45-year-old male college student was allowed to use a girls’ locker room, where he exposed himself in front of young girls using the facility for swim club practices. Businesses in states like Oregon have been threatened with fines for refusing to serve homosexual couples.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who voted against the bill, worries the “language of the ordinance is so broad; the floodgates of litigation against businesses will be opened.” He complained the bill was rammed through the city council without any input from the businesses and companies that would be affected.
The ordinance includes a religious exemption, but the wording is weak and could be open to multiple interpretations, Baer said. For one thing, the law says that only bona fide religious organizations are exempt, which “could mean only churches are bona fide, and homeless shelter food pantries or religious schools are excluded,” he said. It is possible to interpret the exemption as only referring to the hiring of pastoral staff.
And for a Red state, Baer believes the measure is out of line with public opinion. Arizona law defines marriage as only between one man and one woman, just one example that shows the Phoenix measure is out of step with what the people of Arizona want, Baer said.