The most contentious bill for the Nebraska Catholic Conference in this year’s legislative session is undoubtedly LB 586.
This bill, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld (Lincoln), proposes to make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected classifications – the same as race, religion, sex, etc. – under Nebraska’s employment laws.
This bill, like similar bills introduced over the last decade, creates a sensitive challenge to the Church. Catholic teaching holds that all human beings possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected by others in society. The Church also rejects unjust discrimination, which includes discrimination against someone because they have same-sex attraction. So why does the Nebraska Catholic Conference oppose LB 586?
First, LB 586 would allow for no distinction to be made between persons with same-sex attraction and persons who are actively living or promoting a homosexual lifestyle. This problem is highlighted by the bill’s use of the vague, undefined term “sexual orientation,” which must be presumed to include conduct as well as inclination or attraction.
Even more vague and problematic is the bill’s definition of gender identity, which is “actual or perceived appearance, expression, identity, or behavior of an individual, whether or not that appearance, expression, identity, or behavior is different from the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”
So, while LB 586 would prohibit unjust discrimination based on an employee’s same-sex attraction, it would also force employers to accept or even affirm an employee’s conduct-based sexual lifestyle or an employee’s desire to engage in public expression of, or advocacy for, sexual conduct the employer deems immoral, or face crippling penalties.
Second, LB 586 is a solution in search of a problem. Proponents of LB 586 have failed to demonstrate why this legislation is needed. There is no evidence of pervasive employment discrimination against homosexual persons in Nebraska. And, clearly, the trajectory of our cultural and business climate further undermines the supposed need for LB 586.
For example, the financial company Prudential reports that “Median LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] household income is $61,500 vs. $50,000 for the average American household.” The Human Rights Campaign, a chief advocate of homosexual rights, reports that 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies voluntarily prohibit consideration of sexual orientation in employment decisions.
Third, the bill’s coercion would apply not only to for-profit employers who have religious or conscience objections, but also to church entities, organizations and schools. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Morfeld, claims that there is a religious exemption to his bill and recently accused the Nebraska Catholic Conference of “deliberately” misleading Catholics on this point.
The NCC has a solid basis for asserting that religious entities would not be exempted from the mandates in LB 586. The “religious exemption” that Sen. Morfeld uses to make his claim only exempts religious entities “with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion.”
This means that a Catholic school or church, for example, could give preference to hiring Catholics over non-Catholics. This “religious exemption” would not allow religious entities to make employment decisions on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” as Sen. Morfeld suggests. Further substantiation on the lack of a religious exemption to LB 586 can be seen on our website at www.necatholic.org.
I am confident in the accuracy of NCC’s conclusion that nothing in LB 586 would exempt religious entities from its coercive mandate. Sen. Morfeld has a right to make his case about why he thinks NCC’s interpretation is wrong. But when he accused NCC of “deliberately” misleading Catholics, he attacked NCC’s integrity and crossed a line. Not only is his accusation baseless, it is shameless.
LB 586 is waiting to be scheduled for debate by the Legislature. If you haven’t yet urged your senator to oppose LB 586, you can do so quickly and easily at www.necatholic.org.