by Logan Meyer, news staff
LGBTQ+ rights in Massachusetts have recently come under fire. A coalition of attorneys known as Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal suit against the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination (MCAD) on Oct. 11. The suit, which concerns four religious institutions of different denominations, is a response to MCAD’s recently published guidelines regarding gender identity.
The Massachusetts state legislature formally introduced gender identity as a protected class within the commonwealth in July. On Sept. 1, MCAD published guidelines for the interpretation of the revised laws. The legislation and its accompanying guidelines formally went into effect on Oct. 1. Within weeks, according to Freedom Massachusetts, an unnamed group announced they had gathered enough signatures to introduce the option to repeal the protected class legislation on the 2018 ballot. Governor Charles D. Baker’s office issued a statement claiming that Baker would still vote in favor of gender identity as a protected class.
Gov. Charlie Baker says he will vote against transgender law repeal, which is on track for the 2018 ballot. #mapoli
— State House News (@statehousenews) October 20, 2016
In the U.S., a protected class is a portion of a person’s identity which cannot be legally targeted for discrimination. Protected classes include, but are not limited to, race, religion, nationality and biological sex. According to MCAD‘s guidelines, treatment of someone on the basis of gender identity is now also considered unlawful discrimination. With these guidelines, discrimination against someone based on gender identification is prohibited in areas of housing, employment, credit and mortgage services and places of public accommodation.
Andrew Beckwith, member of ADF and local counsel in regards to the suit, said a specific passage within the guidelines prompted legal action, as its enforcement would violate the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees U.S. citizens the right to practice their religion as they see fit.
“Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public,” read the MCAD release Gender Identity Guidance published on Sept. 1. “All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation.”
This specific passage contains the violations of rights with which ADF is concerned. The guidelines state that any event open to the general public must respect the gender identity of every guest. In doing so, venues and their owners must allow guests to use gender-differentiated amenities like restrooms in accordance with their personal gender identity.
“This is an unprecedented intrusion upon the rights of churches,” Beckwith said. “They’ve [Churches] always been different. People at a church aren’t customers, they’re donating to support the teachings of their beliefs. Let’s say they host an event: they have a duty to respect the privacy of all guests and uphold their faith. [The guidelines] consider churches to be public centers if they hold an event open to the public. That creates a lot of questions. Who gets to decide what events are secular and which are sacred?”
Beckwith said that ADF’s argument will stem from the First Amendment, which precludes legislatures from regulating the behavior and goings-on of private religious institutions, and that government commissions like MCAD are not permitted to impose those regulations when they conflict with religious convictions. MCAD commissioners declined to comment on the litigation.
No further information on the status of the case is available. Beckwith said he hopes a hearing date will be set before Christmas.