Conservative family groups attempt to limit basic rights

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As anyone who thought Proposition 8 was certain to fail in California before Election Day will tell you, some people tend to overestimate the degree of tolerance in society when it comes gay rights issues. This is why I was not surprised to read last week that a local “family” organization is trying to stop the passing of a county bill that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Last summer, Allegheny County councilwoman Amanda Green introduced Bill No. 4201-08, which would create a 16-member Human Relations Commission to enforce a nondiscrimination policy in housing, employment, public accommodations, and other areas that we’d categorize as “basic rights.” But the American Family Association of Pennsylvania (AFA) and other organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Family Institute (PFI), are taking steps to derail progress in the fight for equality by advocating that the bill be overturned.

While these groups sound benign, they are actually socially and politically conservative groups that often have subtle — or not-so-subtle — religious undertones. The first tenet of the AFA’s mission statement is “to make a positive difference in our community by standing up for traditional Judeo-Christian values.”

I was raised Christian and taught to embody Judeo-Christian values, namely that of tolerance. My church had an openly gay curate and an openly lesbian director of Christian education, and both of these individuals were active in our faith community. The fact that members of the AFA not only exhibit intolerance of those who are different from them, but do so in the name of God, is abominable.

There is already a statewide Human Rights Commission; however, it cannot protect those who are discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. It can protect against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, and physical handicaps — which means that a member of a religious group that openly persecutes, or at best shuns, homosexuals is more protected under the law in the workplace than homosexuals themselves.

“Realistically, there is no need to set up a Human Relations Commission ... except for the fact that the proposed ordinance is extended on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Patricia Weaver of Fox Chapel on behalf of the Pennsylvania Family Institute at a public hearing about the bill held on Thursday, according to The Daily News.

Oh, that.

The AFA claims it is a “voice for pro-family values.” I’m here to tell them that we in this country are past the era of traditional gender roles and nuclear families. Gay couples work harder to adopt children and start families than any straight couple could ever know. So if the organization truly wants to be a voice for family values, it should be a voice for all families, regardless of color, creed, shape, size, or gender.

Pittsburgh prides itself on being a forward-thinking city in a forward-thinking county. Yet the majority of other regions throughout the state already have such commissions on the books. And if groups like the AFA have their way, Ordinance 4201-08 will fail to get the support it needs to pass and Allegheny County will trail behind the majority of Pennsylvania in standards of basic equality.

The numbers show that such appeals to councilmen and women have been heeded — several members of the council have already withdrawn their support for the ordinance. There are currently a total of eight council members supporting the bill. If there are fewer than eight votes in favor of the bill, it will not pass.

We cannot let an ill-informed, narrow-minded minority set a tone of intolerance for the entire county. We cannot let people hold us back because they cannot accept others who are different from them.

If that’s what God wants, then I guess I’m going to hell. And I’m okay with that.