Arizona lawmakers are condoning injustice by failing to join other states that have banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, a Democratic representative says.
Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, and two other Democrats have introduced a bill that would expand a state law that now forbids workplace discrimination on the basis of gender.
“Some legislators are continuing to support discrimination,” Prezelski said. “They don’t think this is politically expedient.”
Such bills have failed repeatedly over the last decade, said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, another of the sponsors.
“We’ve been trying to pass this law for eight or maybe 10 years,” Sinema said. “It’s never had a hearing, never had a real discussion.”
While there is no federal law outlawing employment decisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity, 20 states, including California and New Mexico, have passed similar laws, according to Lambda Legal, a national organization that advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Some major cities, including Atlanta, have passed such ordinances in states that have not, the group said.
“This is a big issue on the national scene,” Sinema said. “It shows that our Legislature is a little behind the times.”
The Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit organization that pushes conservative values, has opposed previous attempts to pass the legislation. Peter Gentala, its general counsel, called the bill irresponsible and overaggressive.
“It’s an illegitimate attempt to get society and the state to promote homosexual behavior,” Gentala said.
Prezelski said eliminating discrimination is a moral issue, not a political issue.
“We look (at) our grandparents’ generation and ask, ‘How could they support racist laws?’” Prezelski said. “Are we going to say in 10 to 20 years that we knew this was wrong but did nothing?”
Failing to ban such discrimination also stymies Arizona’s economy, he said.
“Anytime you allow discrimination, you’re reducing the pool of talented people you can draw from,” Prezelski said. “That hurts your economic growth.”
In 2003, Gov. Janet Napolitano issued an executive order saying that state employees could not be judged on “any status or characteristic that is not directly related to the performance of a job.”
According to Equality Arizona, a group that promotes the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Pima County prohibit discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation. Tempe and Tucson have banned discrimination against city employees because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Democrats’ bill, proposed for consideration during the Legislature’s 2008 session, includes a provision that religious organizations could use sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as criteria for employment as long as the job is directly related to religious functions.
The stipulation was included to assuage the concerns of religious groups, Prezelski said.
“They have certain beliefs and we shouldn’t trample on them,” he said.