Memphis Christians Fear Discrimination if Revision to Anti-Bias Policy Gets OK

A proposed ordinance in Memphis, Tenn., that would ban discrimination against gays is causing outrage among some local critics who say the ordinance itself would be discriminatory -- against people who oppose homosexuality because of their religious beliefs.

"It's going to discriminate against people of faith who are Christians in their worldview, and I believe with all my heart that they have rights too," says Bellevue Baptist Church Pastor Steven Gaines.

The amendment to the city’s existing non-discrimination policy, which was presented to the city council Tuesday, would prohibit the city from discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression against employees, as well as anyone who has a contract with the city or who uses city facilities.

City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, who sponsored the proposal at the request of gay rights organization Tennessee Equality Project, told the council Tuesday that every human deserves the right to be protected in the workplace.

“All people should be able to make a living, to provide for their families and contribute to their communities without fear of losing their jobs for something that has nothing to do with their job performance,” said Jonathan Cole, a spokesman for Tennessee Equality Project. “Right now it’s legal in Memphis to be fired simply because someone is gay or lesbian or transgender.”

But council member Barbara Swearengen Ware said the ordinance is simply unnecessary.

"Is there a box on the application that requires people to check gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? Then how do I know you are unless you're trying to flaunt it in my face?" she asked at the meeting, then contended that the city is already an equal opportunity employer and doesn’t need the amendment, the Memphis Flyer reported.

Critics also voiced concerns over biological men using women’s bathrooms.

Fullilove responded by telling the council, "I know there are a lot of people with concerns about people going to the rest room. But how many times do you go into a restroom and look into the stall and ask, what are you? A man or a woman?"

Cole told Fox News he respects concerns that some critics have for the pending legislation, but he was especially bothered by the outrage coming from Bellevue Baptist Church.

“They really lack moral authority on the issue,” he said. “This is the same congregation that can’t even share a softball field with a lesbian coach.”

The church allegedly told a lesbian coach that her team would not be able to play in their church softball league after they discovered her sexual orientation.

“We think it would be wrong to have any city tax dollars go towards discriminating against any city employee,” Cole said.

However, Cole stressed that his group is willing to make some concessions and perhaps offer churches an exemption from the proposed law.

“We’re willing to start somewhere by giving them an exemption,” he said. “At least for the time being.”

The ordinance is scheduled to be discussed again before the full council on August 3.