Sunday, October 16, 2005

Has Daniels Capitulated to Christian Right on Gay Civil Rights?

Governor Mitch Daniels has admirably endured quite a beating over the past six months in defending his administration’s EEO policy barring the State from discriminating against non-civilian state employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But Daniels seemingly went out of his way to undermine efforts to pass a similar human rights ordinance (“HRO”) for the City of Indianapolis according to comments attributed to him in today’s Indianapolis Star column, “Behind Closed Doors”.

The column reported that Daniels declined to support renewed efforts to pass the HRO, which was voted down by Indianapolis’ City-County Council last April. The article quotes Daniels as saying: “I think private associations, private businesses ought to be left alone to make their own decisions within the existing civil rights statutes. In public office a clear declaration that discriminatory hiring is not permitted is worth making clear.” He added, “Communities ought to be left a free hand to decide what rules they want to live under, at least within the framework of the national civil rights statute and the Constitution. I’d leave that up to Marion County, but I’d be reluctant to see that imposed top-down on the whole state or all citizens.”

In one sense, Daniels’ views are no different than the view of segregationists during the civil rights battles of the 1960s. Like the segregationists, he is arguing the old states' rights view that each local community should get to decide for themselves whether to allow private businesses to discriminate and against any generalized civil rights law prohibiting such discrimination in the private sector. The states’ rights advocates believed that the original intent of the U.S. Constitution was that government could not discriminate but that private citizens were free to do as they please. He believes that a “clear declaration” is needed for state employees, but let’s allow private employers to decide what is best for their employees.

Few would argue today that had the federal government not enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the widespread discrimination against African-Americans in this country would have continued unabated. It is fair to believe that gays and lesbians will continue to endure discrimination, particularly as long as there are people who subscribe to the view of extremist religious groups that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against this class of persons. Daniels’ obviously incongruous position on gay civil rights severely undercuts support for his own policy. Even worse, it signals to all those Republican city council members who have voted in near lock-step against the Indy HRO that its okay to continue blocking its passage.

Daniels statements cannot mean anything other than he opposes federal and state civil rights laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. He is also expressing a clear preference that private employers be permitted to decide whether to discriminate and against local laws such as Indy’s proposed HRO. To say that his statements are disappointing to civil rights supporters is an understatement. It is a complete capitulation to the view taken by leading anti-gay advocates in Indiana, including Eric Miller, Curt Smith and Micah Clark.

For the sake of supporters of Indy’s HRO and civil rights in general, Advance Indiana hopes that Daniels has been misquoted by the Indianapolis Star. But until we hear otherwise, we have little hope that Governor Daniels has the courage to choose principle over politics when it comes to issues pertaining to gay civil rights.

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