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Op-Ed: The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act Must Be Preserved, in the Name of Civil Rights

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA, was passed following decades of advocacy for and discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado. Ensuring that public accommodations are safe and available to all people is crucial. This guarantee of safety should apply to all people, always.

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is, and always has been, a huge step in the right direction. It promotes equal access to all resources and accommodations, including public spaces (businesses, government facilities, etc) for everyone, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, and national origin. Sexual orientation is often treated as the ‘outlier’ in terms of equal rights and equal opportunities. Precedent cases such as Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), Grutter vs. Bollinger (2003), established the fact that discrimination based upon race is unconstitutional, and that universities and institutions have legitimate interests in promoting diversity. Engel vs. Vitale (1962) established the fact that public institutions cannot discriminate on the basis of religion or promote religion in any way. In the CADA case, it’s crystal clear that simply providing a good or performing a service is not an endorsement of a lifestyle. This isn’t a matter of religion; it’s a matter of basic human dignity and respect. Turning people away based on their sexual orientation is a blatant violation of precedent. The only reason why this kind of discrimination is tolerated is because LGBTQ+ groups as viewed as a different ‘type’ of marginalized group.

So why are LGBTQ+ people treated differently when it comes to their rights being preserved?

The United States Constitution gives people the freedom of speech and expression to express their bigoted, discriminatory views. However, it absolutely does not allow businesses that produce public goods or provide public services (The Heart of Atlanta Motel vs. United States, 1964) to discriminate against people based on a factor that is inherent to their identity, a factor that they cannot control. Race and religion are two examples of such a factor. So is being a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s high time to stop treating LGBTQ+ people as though they have ‘made a choice’ to love the people they love and present themselves the way they present. Often, people fear using racial discrimination as an analogous case to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This fear is rooted in the deeper-set fear that seekers of religious exemption in the case of LGBTQ+ discrimination will be labeled as bigoted and ostracized in the context of 21st century society. However, this is not the case.

In past landmark civil rights cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education, racial discrimination was common, and was considered to be a (regrettably) normal aspect of society. It’s clear that those who claim exemption today will not be equated to bigoted, racist people– because those who were bigoted and racist were the norm in the 1960’s. They were not ostracized. Similarly, today, religious discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is, unfortunately, a norm in our society. Although some believe that these incidents are isolated to Supreme Court Cases, anti LGBTQ+ discrimination is an everyday occurrence in the United States. A study of Massachusetts high school students found that a whopping ⅓ of LGBTQ+ students had been threatened by weapons. Over 90% of the students were regularly subjected to homophobia at school. This problem is far more pervasive than it seems.

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is not a radical statement on anything. It is simply a safety net that protects vulnerable populations from a kind of discrimination that negatively impacts them directly. This kind of discrimination is not speech or petition-based. It directly impacts people’s lives in a way that has been established to be unconstitutional by several precedent cases.

So let’s start treating LGBTQ+ discrimination as it is– an unconstitutional form of discrimination against a group of people who are making a ‘choice’ as much as people in different racial or ethnic groups make a choice to identify with their ethnicities. We must protect the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act for the good of our country and to uphold the civil liberties that must be guaranteed to every single member of our society.

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