Alabama House committee kills bill that would have banned LGBT discrimination

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama House committee on Wednesday canceled a vote on a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The delay in the House Judiciary Committee essentially kills a bill that would have protected individuals from discrimination in areas including employment and housing. The legislation also would have protected against discrimination related to voting, financial transactions and accommodations.

State Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, asked the committee to cancel the bill’s vote because of what he described as constitutional law concerns.

“This is a big issue, and it deals with some big issues that raise a lot of constitutional issues that we need to look at, I believe, further,” Faulkner said.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, said Alabama should protect people from discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“I believe that in order to protect those classifications they need to be enumerated,” England said. “There is some history there that suggests that if it’s not enumerated, they’re not protected.”

Eric Johnston, an attorney who had planned to speak at a canceled public hearing for the bill, said the protection against discrimination related to accommodations including goods and services could have discriminated against members of religious groups that oppose homosexuality.

“If you are one of these bakers, florists, if you had a wedding chapel kind of thing, you would be required to perform same-sex weddings and activities which may be against your religious belief,” he said.

England’s bill is one of several similar pieces of legislation being considered late in the state’s legislative session.

State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said employment discrimination exists and she’s glad lawmakers are beginning to address it.

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A separate bill, sponsored by Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, cleared the House Judiciary Committee a day earlier. The legislation, while not explicitly mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity, would protect state employees from being fired for characteristics or traits unrelated to job performance.

Todd noted that because Alabama is a right-to-work state, employees can be fired for any reason and at any time unless they are part of a classified group protected by state anti-discrimination laws.

Todd, who is gay, said Ball’s bill might be too broad.

“I appreciate the sentiment of what he’s trying to do, but it is so broad that I can imagine that courts would have no way to rule whether anything was discriminatory or not,” she said. “It’s like what if you don’t shower often and you come to work? … That’s why we have enumerated classes.”

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