Gay Activist, Va. Firm Spar Over Protest Films
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Arlington gay activist Lilli Vincenz just wanted to copy a film she made of the nation's first gay pride parade back in 1970. Tim Bono was just a small county businessman trying to run his film production company in line with his Christian values.
When Bono declined to make copies of Vincenz's work because he did not want to "partake in any gay agenda," she filed a discrimination complaint with the Arlington County Human Rights Commission -- and won.
But the local case has morphed into a cause celebre in the national blogosphere in recent days, raising the ire of conservatives who think that Bono's religious freedom is being violated.
Bono's attorney said he plans to file a lawsuit next week that would ask a court to decide the larger question of whether local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are legal not only in Arlington but also in neighboring Alexandria and other Virginia localities.
Arlington has had a provision in its human rights ordinance protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination since 1992.
"If there was a court case, you'd have a definitive ruling on whether we could enforce such a provision in the ordinance," Arlington County Attorney Stephen A. MacIsaac said. "Previously, it's not been tested."
Mathew D. Staver, an attorney with the conservative public interest law firm Liberty Counsel in Lynchburg, said Bono will not comply with the county's order to copy Vincenz's tape or pay to have someone else do it.
"We feel he has a right to produce what he chooses to produce," Staver said. "The commission has no right to force him to produce something that's objectionable to him."
Staver argues that Arlington's ordinance protecting homosexuals from discrimination is illegal, citing a 2002 state attorney general's opinion that said the Fairfax County School Board had no authority to amend its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation without permission from the state legislature. Such opinions aren't binding but could be used as a basis for a court ruling later.
"It is the opinion of this office that without enabling legislation, no locality can include sexual discrimination in its non-discrimination policy," said J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R). "If a locality chooses to act outside of its authority in any manner, it runs the risk of having a court strike the underlying ordinance."
Alexandria amended its human rights ordinance to include language protecting gays and lesbians in 1988 but now has little authority to provide a legal remedy aside from a $5,000 fine, according to Jean Niebauer in the city's human rights office.
A handful of smaller localities, such as Williamsburg and Charlottesville, have policies prohibiting such discrimination in municipal business.