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Tom Freier, Published November 04 2013

Letter: Does commission speak for the people of Fargo?

On Oct. 28, the Fargo City Commission unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Commissioner Melissa Sobolik to support “protection of all citizens regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Most of us know what sexual orientation means. But the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” are relatively new. What do they mean and what are the consequences of supporting and protecting them? This resolution will likely get into the city employee manual. From there it will likely get into housing requirements in the city and from there into every possible arena under city control. Sobolik committed to as much by saying these individuals will be a protected class.

Special status

The resolution states a protected class is based on an individual’s self-perceived gender identity. That “self-perceived identity” may be different than his or her sex at birth. Based on that definition, a self-identified sex may change over time, and if they choose, may exercise these tendencies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other. The special status is then based upon a self-perceived identity and a chosen exercise of that “self-perceived identity.” Should a protected class be granted based on self-perception and choice?

In the past, these protections have been based on immutable characteristics such as race or age, none of which can be changed by an individual or affected by their expression, conduct or behavior. U.S. Supreme Court criteria for considering these protections include: an immutable, unchangeable characteristic, being economically deprived and suffering from political powerlessness. None of these apply here.

Tolerance?

We are not only being forced to recognize a protected class based on self-perception and choice, but we are to tolerate and accept that class. The resolution reflects this when it states, “tolerance and acceptance … regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” In the current cultural context, no longer does tolerance mean a respect for the dignity of a fellow man while not necessarily agreeing with him or her, but now tolerance is synonymous with acceptance and endorsement. By inference, the resolution labels all who do not endorse these concepts as bigots.

Sobolik apologized that as a resolution, without specific ordinances, it did not go far enough. She promised to explore all options for special protections regarding employment and housing, not just in Fargo but North Dakota as well. And that is the issue for the people of Fargo. If Sobolik’s vision, and by nature of the commission’s unanimous vote on the resolution – their complicitness, is carried out to full measure – what might the results/consequences be?

Sincere beliefs

At issue is whether faith-based homeless shelters would be able to define basic rules for housing and caring for their guests, such as sleeping assignments and use of rest rooms and shower facilities? Would a church be liable for a volunteer exercising and expressing their sincerely held religious beliefs? Would business owners be able to exercise their management prerogatives such as a photographer in choosing not to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony? Would schools be forced to educate first-graders regarding their ability to choose their gender identity? There is no limit to the far-reaching depths of who will be affected if this resolution is carried out to its full measure.

Proponents offered that some Fargo businesses have voluntarily, not by force, incorporated portions of the resolution into their company’s policies, evidencing the ability of the free market to reflect its values. There is diversity in the faith community, churches and religious organizations, each with the ability to voluntarily reflect its values. We respect the voluntary decision of those businesses to change their policies, but we believe that that freedom should be available to all businesses and individuals. We certainly do not need the heavy hand of government enforcement stripping away our First Amendment rights of religious exercise and conscience.

Force of law

Bottom line is this: The Fargo City Commission as a political entity is made up of elected officials. With this resolution, they have issued a strong political message. It is a message of coercion, a vision of creating special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity for a protected class, and then carrying them out using the force of law.

As one activist judge, in another city, opined in defending his view similar to the intent of the commission resolution, “that’s the price you have to pay for freedom.” Heaven forbid that we must give up our first freedom. Does the commission’s passage of this resolution reflect the will of the people of Fargo? Does it reflect your view?

Freier is executive director, North Dakota Family Alliance.