Listen: Gay rights-Minnesota Civil Liberties Union wants new state law

MPR’s Catherine Winter reports on Minnesota Civil Liberties Union call for expanding Human Rights Act by including gay rights. Winter gets opposing views on subject from William Roath, executive director of Minnesota Civil Liberties Union; and Tom Prichard, executive director of Berean League.


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CATHERINE WINTER: Minnesota Civil Liberties Union Executive Director William Roth says the state Human Rights Act should be expanded to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination. The act currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, disability and marital status. But neither state, nor federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against homosexual people. Roth says a change in the law would help prevent hate crimes and discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

WILLIAM ROTH: Obviously, it wouldn't not necessarily change the opinions of bigots immediately, but it would send a message to them that they cannot overtly practice discrimination without fear of being caught/punished. It would give gays and lesbians an opportunity for redress when they are discriminated against. I think it would change the climate enormously.

CATHERINE WINTER: Roth says a governor's task force will release a report soon that shows widespread discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

WILLIAM ROTH: The discrimination is in all areas. And the fact that gay marriages can't be recognized harms them again when it comes to taxation, it harms them in custody cases for children, it makes it harder to get credit. The fear of insurance companies with regard to AIDS makes it more difficult for them.

The task force heard cases of gays being discriminated against in emergency rooms. So it's everywhere and it affects every facet of gays' lives.

CATHERINE WINTER: Roth says the legislature should also repeal the state law that prohibits sodomy. He says that though the law is rarely enforced, it has generally been used only against homosexual people. And he says as long as that law is on the books, it gives people reason to believe that lesbians and gay men are criminals. The head of the conservative religious group the Berean League, says his group will oppose those changes in the law.

The Berean League fought unsuccessfully to keep sexual orientation out of St. Paul's human rights ordinance. And Executive Director Tom Prichard says the group will also fight against adding lesbians and gay men to the state Human Rights Act. Prichard says being a homosexual is not equivalent to being a member of a racial minority.

TOM PRICHARD: They have every right that you and I have right now. If they're subject to abuse or assault, I mean, there are laws against that. They can bring civil suits, criminal penalties for assault and battery, and so forth and so on. So I don't think they deserve special protection that you and I do not currently have.

CATHERINE WINTER: Prichard says he doesn't think the public will support further civil rights protection for gay men and lesbians. Civil Liberties Union Director Roth admits that similar legislation has failed in the past. But he says the task force report will provide new concrete evidence of discrimination. And he says he hopes to get support from Governor elect Arne Carlson, who once sponsored legislation that would have added sexual orientation to the Human Rights Act. I'm Katherine Winter.

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