Transgender protection law under assault in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. AP Photo, Steven Senne.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

Massachusetts’ transgender protection law went into effect on October 1, and is already under attack. Opponents of the law say that it is “’punishing’ the protected religious speech of churches and pastors,” says an Associated Pressreport on a federal lawsuit filed by four churches over the law.

The AP report says, “The law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in July and went into effect in October, bars discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations. Among other things, it allows people to use the bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities.”

Challenges to the law make Massachusetts a new battleground in the national war over transgender rights and protections.

“The law did not provide exemptions for religious organizations,” says a Reuters report, “with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office saying on its website that ‘houses of worship’ are public places.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, said it sued, “on behalf of four Massachusetts churches to protect their right to operate their facilities ‘in a manner that doesn't violate their core religious beliefs,’” according to the AP.

“The lawsuit names Democratic state Attorney General Maura Healey and members of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination as defendants.

“The ADF contends in the lawsuit that churches would be forced to open changing rooms, shower facilities and restrooms based on perceived gender identity and not on biological sex. The group says because the law also prohibits covered entities from making statements intended to discriminate or to incite others to do so, Healey and the commission ‘also intend to force churches and pastors to refrain from religious expression regarding sexuality that conflicts with the government's views.’

"’Neither the commission nor the attorney general has the constitutional authority to dictate how any church uses its facility or what public statements a church can make concerning a deeply held religious belief, such as human sexuality,’ said attorney Steve O'Ban, senior counsel for ADF.”

Other opponents of the law, led by the Massachusetts Family Institute, have submitted enough voter signatures to put the recall effort on the 2018 ballot, according to the AP. “They say they're defending the fundamental rights to privacy and safety, particularly for women and children.”

Supporters of the law planned a press conference in Boston Thursday morning to champion the law. Supporters say the majority of Massachusetts citizens support the law, and that citizens will see, by the vote in 2018, that there have been no problems brought about by imposing unjust rules on transgender people.

The Reuters’ report said, “Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey's office, told the MassLive news website the office would not comment on the lawsuit as they are still reviewing it.

“Fennimore added however, ‘We are pleased that we finally have a law in place that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places. This law is about civil rights and is critical for people who were without full protection and equality under the law for too long.’"

Copyright 2016 The Gayly – October 13, 2016 @ 1`1:30 a.m.