To the editor:
When Senate Bill 08-200, dubbed as an "extension of prohibitions against discrimination," was signed into law early this month, it added sexual orientation to an existing list of 20 protected classes of Colorado citizens. Eight of the others include physical characteristics such as race and gender, with the rest covering characteristics of choice such as religion, creed, family status and residence.
Colorado jurisdictions where these anti-discrimination measures apply include the sale and use of private housing, access to public accommodations, regulated occupations, labor hiring for public works, insurance, jury duty and public school teachers.
Some Colorado citizens may view this law, known informally as Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA, as justice. Others will see it as a predatory monster.
The law is armed by a seven-person Civil Rights Commission, four of whom must be members of one of the protected classes that have been or could be discriminated against. This unelected happy few, appointed by the governor, are tasked to energetically ferret out those of us Coloradoans whom they think to be suspect, subjecting us to fines and/or imprisonment.
CADA raises any number of judicial, legal and philosophical contradictions.
By carving out artificial identity groups for protected class status, this law abandons the only source of rights available equally to all of us under the U.S. Constitution - our American citizenship - the only thing that we Americans have in common. Our rights stem from that citizenship alone, not selectively by our gender, ethnicity, ancestry or sex habits.
Instead of removing discriminations, our Colorado legislature simply reverses them, taking it upon itself to determine who gets what rights, protections and benefits.
The freedom to own and utilize property as we see fit was one of the primal rights driving the founding fathers and only at the last minute was the "pursuit of property" replaced in the Declaration of Independence with the "pursuit of happiness."
By selectively criminalizing the beliefs, convictions and legitimate responses to chosen lifestyles, the Colorado legislature now violates our freedom of association, even our moral sovereignty.
As a matter of law, how do we identify a person's "orientation," whether it be political, artistic, economic, athletic or sexual, other than what an individual simply states?
This law pits Coloradoans against each other depending upon which "group" we may or may not belong, with any resident of the state of Colorado, motivated by any complaint or grievance against any other party, to find at least one "protected class" of which he calls himself a member, to force a redress, on pain of fine and/or imprisonment, from his target party.
Buried deep within the belly of this beast the phrase "or perception thereof" appears as one of the myriad misdemeanors a citizen of Colorado will be guilty of in addition to legislatively defined overt actions. Perception?
As a matter of law, how does an enforcer of CADA or a prosecutor enter into the mind of a person to determine what he "perceives?" This smacks of Orwellian thought control enabling Big Brother to shape our innermost feelings and convictions.
The Soviet Union had its own punishment for "illicit thought" when it condemned its wayward citizens to the Soviet archipelago of prisoner camps, a variant of which was the psychiatric ward for the repair of those minds confused enough to hold views contrary to the party line. Perhaps more than any other entry in the CADA, assigning guilt to "perception" reveals the apparent motivation behind this law - the insistence on having the state force an arbitrary ideology upon us.
The language of "perception" joins "hate crimes" prosecutions in the latter's perversion of the law by assigning punishment according to the identity of the victim, standing equality under the law on its head.
The new law carefully retains the "protections" provided in the state statutes for religious organizations, language which appears cynical and condescending, as if it were the members of the Christian and Judeo faiths who have distanced themselves from the rest of society and who need special consideration to participate equally in that society, an equation that again stands equality under the law on its head. From what or from whom does a Colorado resident need "protection" in the free exercise of his religion-based conscience or sense of morality?
Should a nonreligious Coloradoan, an atheist, be given "protected class" status to protect his rights in equal measure?
CADA also targets the insurance industry, an industry that only exists because of its inability to discriminate among identifiable risks. In two rather stealthy moves, auto insurance underwriters must now ignore 12 of the 20 protected classes, while managed health care plans may not discriminate on the basis of health status, disability or sexual orientation.
When medical insurance companies are forbidden to take into account legitimate morbidity and risk calculation, the cost to all participants will continue to rise, potentially causing insurers to leave the state.
The list goes on. CADA reminds all of us that elections matter, and that we do get what we vote for.
And may we all wonder what, under Colorado law, the next "protected class" might be.