Delaware Senate Committee Rejects Anti-Discrimination Bill

By | May 15, 2009

The Delaware state Senate once again has blocked passage of a bill outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in Delaware.

The bill, which passed the House in March, was the subject of a hearing Wednesday by the Senate executive committee. But only two of the six members on the panel, which is controlled by conservative Democrats, signed the measure to send it to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

The bill is similar to legislation first introduced a decade ago. In recent years, House members have approved such measures, only to see them die in the Senate.

The legislation would add sexual orientation to age, race, gender and other factors that cannot be the basis for discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, public works contracting and insurance.

Most of the people who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing, including several members of the clergy, supported release of the bill, which is supported by Gov. Jack Markell.

“This is a justice issue, clear and simple,” said Rev. Patricia Downing, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish in Wilmington.

John Abraham, a retired Episcopal priest sporting a clerical collar and an earring in his left ear, approached the microphone and pulled out his cell phone, pretending to have a chat with God about the bill.

“She says she’s a lesbian,” Abraham said, then adding that God was also bisexual, transgender, heterosexual.

“This bill is a baby step in the right direction,” Abraham concluded. “Full gay rights will come.”

Clergy members from the Presbyterian, Methodist and Unitarian churches also spoke in favor of the bill.

Critics of the bill said it was legally flawed and unnecessary, and that it would lead to the teaching of homosexuality in elementary schools and clog an already overburdened court system with frivolous lawsuits against business owners.

“It is not antithetical in this country to be a business owner and a religious person,” said Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-oriented legal defense group.

Nimocks said the exemptions in the bill for religious organizations were “grossly inadequate,” and that passage of the bill would guarantee litigation.

Clayton Bunting, a Sussex County attorney, said the bill amounted to an assault on Delaware’s “employment at will” doctrine, which generally gives an employer the right to terminate a worker for any nondiscriminatory reason, unless the worker can prove that he qualifies for protection.

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