In the quadrennial marathon to see who can be the nation’s worst governor, Colorado’s Bill Ritter is in a full sprint. On Thursday, Ritter signed Senate Bill 200 which expands “anti-discrimination” law to cover sexual orientation, meaning not only homosexuality or bisexuality, but also “transgender status or another person’s perception thereof.”
The bill is so ripe for abuse and creates so much risk for private business that it’s no surprise the ordinarily media-hungry Ritter signed the bill late in the afternoon (too late for most newspapers to cover the story) with no fanfare (although he frequently has bill-signing ceremonies and particularly for measures such as this which have received this much media attention). It isn’t even mentioned on his Web site, whereas a look at the page shows that he routinely issues press releases on bills he signs into law.
A major criticism of the bill by conservatives is that it appears to allow men who self-identify as “transgender” a legal right to demand to be able to use women’s bathrooms, health club showers, bathhouses, and any other “public accommodation”.
Importantly, the bill does not define “transgender”. The Wikipedia entry on the term notes that “the precise definition for transgender remains in flux, but includes:
• A person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, but combines or moves between these.
• People who were assigned a gender, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves, and
• Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender one was assigned at birth.”
In other words, not only is there no legal definition for transgender, but there isn’t even a solid dictionary definition for a court to rely on. Instead, transgender status is a matter of self-identification, rendering such a claim to be nearly impossible to prove or disprove.
In a fascinating radio interview, Representative Joel Judd, the main sponsor of the bill in the Colorado House, refused to say that criticism is untrue, and basically said that courts will decide on a case-by-case basis whether, for example, a man who goes into the health club’s ladies’ locker room claiming that he “has the mind of a woman” has a legal right to do so or has a valid lawsuit against a health club that prevents him from doing so. The primary overall sponsor of the bill was State Senator Jennifer Veiga, the state’s only openly gay legislator. She refused to be interviewed for the radio show.
Judd said that the bill represents a “choice” as to how society deals with transgender people. Strangely, he asked the radio show host “Where do you think this individual is going to the bathroom today?” and, regarding transgender people, said the bill is just “trying to accommodate this very odd occurrence. Those folks are walking around today and doing the best they can.”
Although the bathroom issue has gotten the most attention in the media, it is not the law’s most dangerous effect.
As if it weren’t a large enough invitation for lawsuits, the law prohibits anyone who owns or runs a public accommodation from publishing, distributing, or “displaying in any way, manner, or shape or by any means or method…any communication, paper, book, pamphlet…notice, or advertisement of any kind…that is intended or calculated to discriminate or actually discriminates….”
On its face, this makes the law unconstitutional. Free speech still trumps political correctness, but apparently not in Bill Ritter’s mind. It is not beyond the pale to imagine a radical gay-rights organization suing a company that advertises using the image of a typical American family, i.e. a man and woman, a kid or two, etc, claiming that the advertising discriminates against gays. It is not impossible to imagine an activist judge ruling that the radicals are right. This may land in the Supreme Court quickly, but not quickly enough to stop Colorado’s Ritter-caused tumble away from our reputation as a business-friendly state.
The law gives radical gay rights organizations a legal hammer with which to try to force pro-“alternative lifestyle” education into school curricula. Even for those of us who consider ourselves social-issues liberals, the idea of public schools being forced to teach “Billy has two dads”, or having to spend taxpayer dollars to defend not teaching such things, is reprehensible.
Other areas of “public accommodation” which may not discriminate “directly or indirectly” include barber shops, mortuaries, cemeteries, swimming pools, or a “public facility of any kind whether indoor or outdoor.” While the law says that places of worship are not included as “places of public accommodation” and that protections of free exercise of religion remain in place, it is easy to imagine religious objections to being forced to serve transgender, homosexual, or transsexual people…living or dead.
Of late, gay rights organizations are actively seeking to gain rights through activist courts that they routinely fail to acquire through votes of citizens. Given the hard left turn that courts, including state supreme courts such as California and Colorado have taken in recent years, it is easy to imagine a judge ruling in favor of a man who claims to think like a woman and sues for the right to shower in a health club’s women’s locker room.
To ensure that the most aggressive “gay rights” agenda is pursued, the law creates a seven member “Colorado civil rights commission” with “at least four members who are members of groups of people who have been or who might be discriminated against because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or because of marital status, religion, or age.” These commissioners will “receive a per diem allowance and shall be reimbursed for actual and necessary expenses…” In other words, Colorado taxpayers will pay “victim group” activists, modern-day inquisitors, to scour the state for citizens and businesses to sue.
Bill Ritter ran as a moderate (for a Democrat), including being anti-abortion. He lived up to that reputation for a few weeks before caving in to liberal special interests, such as when he signed an executive order allowing government workers to unionize…something he also did late in the afternoon after reporters were done for the day. In Colorado politics, there is a group of four ultra-wealthy liberal political activists, sometimes called “The Four Horsemen” who contribute or help raise large amounts of money for liberal candidates and ballot initiatives. Two of the four are gay, and one of these, Tim Gill, is an activist for gay causes and founder of The Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado. Senate Bill 200, now law thanks to Governor Ritter’s signature, seems an obvious payback to gay activists who opened their checkbooks to elect Democrats.
Colorado’s new “anti-discrimination” law thus offers a critical lesson, namely that even a “moderate” Democrat can not and will not stand up against special interest groups even when their goals are directly at odds with a functioning civil society.