How a California bill became a lesson in compromise

For months, an anti-discrimination bill pitted faith-based universities against gender equality advocates. But changes made Wednesday transformed the measure into something both sides could support. 

Aug. 12, 2016

A proposed anti-discrimination measure in California may have become a model for compromise in the conflict between religious liberty and gender equality.

Since its introduction in February, Senate Bill 1146 has been at the center of heated debate between faith-based private universities and gender equality advocates across the state – and the nation. Among other things, the measure would have made it easier for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students at religious colleges to sue for discrimination if they are penalized for violating church doctrine.

But on Wednesday, faced with an opposition campaign mounted by religious groups nationwide, lead author Sen. Ricardo Lara (D) of Bell Gardens pulled that particular provision.

Suddenly the bill, for months a source of bitter division, became compromise legislation that both sides could support. Gender equality advocates won provisions that would compel religious colleges to disclose their reasons for applying for exemptions to federal anti-discrimination law. They would have to inform students, parents, faculty, employees, and the California Student Aid Commission.

“I think this last round of amendments is exactly what we had hoped would happen,” says Jennifer Walsh, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Azusa Pacific University, an Evangelical Christian institution in Azusa, Calif., just northeast of Los Angeles. “We were pleased we could find some common ground in that area and have moved our position from opposing the bill unless amended, to supporting it.”

“I think it’s a good step forward,” says Alice Kessler, legislative consultant for Equality California, a statewide LGBT civil rights group. “We absolutely still support the bill.”

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