Opponents of a newly enacted Massachusetts law that prohibits anti-trans discrimination in public accommodations have obtained enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot in 2018, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin certified Tuesday.
Brian McNaff, a Galvin spokesperson, affirmed for the Washington Blade Wednesday opponents of the law submitted 34,231 qualified signatures to reverse the measure, which is slightly more than the 32,375 names needed.
“They filed a sufficient number of signatures last week, which puts the referendum on the ballot in November of 2018,” McNaff said.
The title of the ballot asks voters whether they approve of the transgender non-discrimination law and then provides a summary of the measure as reflected in the statute. For the referendum to succeed in reversing the law, a majority of voters have to vote “no” at the ballot.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed the law in July after it was approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature. Although Baker initially hesitated to support the law, he came around and later signed the measure, which went into effect Oct. 1. The Washington Blade has placed a call to Baker’s office seeking comment on the referendum.
The referendum only applies to anti-trans discrimination in public accommodations. In 2011, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signed into law a separate measure barring anti-trans discrimination in the state in housing, employment, credit and post-secondary education. The referendum won’t affect that law.
Kasey Suffredini, chief program officer of the pro-LGBT Freedom for All Americans and co-chair of Freedom Massachusetts, predicted in a statement voters would uphold the measure at the ballot in 2018.
“Legislators updated our Commonwealth’s civil rights law this year to legally protect transgender people from discrimination with the overwhelming support of thousands of businesses, faith leaders, women’s advocacy and anti-violence groups and fair-minded residents across the state,” Suffredini said. “It takes less than 1 percent of the Commonwealth’s population to force this commonsense update of our state law to the ballot in 2018. The people of the Commonwealth have a deep and long history of promoting fairness and inclusion. When presented with the question of whether to continue to treat transgender people as equal members of the Commonwealth in 2018, they will vote yes.”
Deborah Shields, executive director of MassEquality, also said in a statement voters in Massachusetts will reject efforts to overturn the law.
“The people of Massachusetts have a deep and long history of promoting fairness and inclusion,” Shields said. “If the question of whether to continue to treat transgender people as equal members of our society ends up before Massachusetts voters in 2018, we are confident they will vote to retain the law and affirm the values of justice and equality that are the hallmarks of our Commonwealth.”
The state certified the referendum will be on the 2018 ballot on the same day the anti-LGBT legal group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of four Massachusetts churches and their pastors seeking to overturn the measure.
The lawsuit observes churches are subject to the law because they’re considered public accommodations if they host a secular event open to the public. The lawsuit also states the law forces pastors to “self-censor their speech” on anti-transgender views because the public accommodations law prohibits covered entities from making statements intended to discriminate or incite others to do so.
As such, the complaint contends the law violates the right to free speech, freedom of association freedom of religion and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also calls for the court to suspend enforcement of the law as the litigation proceeds.
The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are George Small, a pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship; David Aucoin, a pastor at Swansea Abundant Life Assembly of God; Esteban Carrasco, a pastor at House of Destiny Ministries; Marlene Yeo, a pastor at Faith Christian Fellowship of Haverhill; as well as the non-profit religious corporations themselves.
Steve O’Ban, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement the lawsuit is needed because the transgender non-discrimination law constitutes government overreach.
“The government shouldn’t encroach on the internal, religious practices of a church,” O’Ban said. “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 on human sexuality.”
The named defendants in the lawsuit are Jamie Williamson, Sunila George and Charlotte Richie, each in their capacity as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination as well as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, an out lesbian. A Healey official said her office is reviewing the lawsuit.
Jillian Fennimore, a Healey spokesperson, affirmed the importance of the transgender law in response to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
“We are pleased that we finally have a law in place that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places,” Fennimore said. “This law is about civil rights and is critical for people who were without full protection and equality under the law for too long.”
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) denounced initiatives aimed at undermining transgender rights in Massachusetts in a statement to the Washington Blade.
“Efforts to turn back the clock on progress for our transgender community in Massachusetts remind us of the work still left to be done,” Markey said. “We must continue to fight for full equality for all people, regardless of who they love. Our support for transgender equality should be unwavering.”