Monday, July 10, 2006

Religion Raising Its Ugly Head In South Bend Gay Rights Debate

Although South Bend Equality, the leading group behind the enactment of a gay rights ordinance in South Bend, maintains that the issue has nothing to do with religion--"It's an issue of basic fairness . . . and of economic sense," opponents rely heavily on their moral disapproval of homosexuality as a basis for its opposition according to the South Bend Tribune's Lyn Stegemiller. He writes:

South Bend Equality, an organization that supports adding "sexual orientation and gender identity" to the city's nondiscrimination ordinance, maintains on its Web site that the issue is not a religious one.

Yet, faith seems to play a key role for people on both sides of the debate over whether to specifically ban discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in housing, employment, education and public accommodations.

The leading opposition group to the ordinance, No Special Rights, calls on "every citizen of faith" to actively oppose the ordinance Stegemiller notes. She quotes from their website, "This is not an issue of tolerating what people do in the privacy of their own home. This has become an aggressive attempt to force the moral acceptance of homosexual acts as normal on the entire population."

Stegemiller reports that the Catholic Church reprinted an earlier statement from Bishop John M. D'Arcy in opposition to the ordinance and distributed it to members in a church bulletin, which listed the names of Mayor Stephen Luecke and members of the Common Council, along with their contact information. He quotes a statement from D'Arcy explaining his opposition, "At the same time, we must be very cautious lest we validate in law lifestyles and behaviors to which many of our citizens are deeply in conscience opposed."

There are churches supporting the ordinance as well. Stegemiller notes that the First Unitarian-Universalist Church "urged readers of its newsletter to support the amendment by writing to Common Council members, sending an e-mail or attending a common council meeting to show their support."

The ordinance, which will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, exempts religious organizations. Stegemiller notes that South Bend Equality supports the exemption for religious organizations.

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