Bill of Non-Rights

Yesterday all employees in my thirty-person office participated in an HR seminar on harassment in general, and sexual harassment in particular. The two-hour presentation reviewed what harassment is, company policy and procedures, and applicable federal law. It felt good to see “sexual orientation” listed among the protected classes that at least my employer recognizes as part of its anti-harassment policy. Shortly after the seminar ended, I was walking out of the little deli nearby with my tuna sandwich and saw the headline of the Washington Post: Gay Marriage Ban Advances Toward Va. Referendum. The contrast between the purpose of the seminar, ensuring that the rights of ALL people are respected in the workplace, and the headline about efforts to constitutionalize discrimination against gay people, couldn’t have been more striking.

Some lawmakers in both Virginia and Maryland are advancing proposals to amend their respective state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. The proposals would place before voters a ballot question seeking to include the prohibition in their constitutions’ Bill of Rights. How a law which doesn’t actually confer or recognize a right, but in fact does the exact opposite, can be considered part of a “Bill of Rights” is beyond me … but that’s another matter. Living in the Washington, DC area and being regularly exposed to the politics of Virginia and Maryland, these efforts do not come as a surprise. What struck me, however, was realizing that these discriminatory proposals have such support not only among some lawmakers, but also among many Virginia and Maryland citizens.

On the heels of the morning’s anti-discrimination presentation, it occurred to me more bluntly than it ever had before that some of my co-workers are quite probably among those constituents who would support these constitutional bans. Some probably think of gay people as “less than” and thus worthy of being discriminated against. What could be more hostile than that?

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