Property Rights

Supporting Property Rights Means Opposing Anti-Discrimination Law

New legislation proposed by Senator Steve Urquhart seeks to legally prohibit certain landlords and business owners from discriminating against people due to their “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Additional legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis would prohibit discrimination in a place of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Both of these bills—along with the underlying laws they seek to amend—violate property rights and should therefore be opposed.

In a press conference this morning, the LDS Church announced its support for the general idea behind these measures. Advocating “fairness for all,” proponents argue that common decency demands enacting laws that will protect religious liberty while protecting the “right” of LGBT persons to rent residential property or be employed at a certain business. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, kicking off the conference, called for “solutions that will be fair to everyone.”

In referencing the general idea behind the Church’s support, Sister Marriott of the Young Women’s General Presidency argued that “basic rights such as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on someone’s sexual orientation.” However, no person has the right to somebody else’s property; it is incorrect to say that person X has a right to employment in person Y’s business—for any reason. A right for one person creates a corresponding duty for another; if a gay man has the right to rent an apartment from a person who personally detests gay people, that implies that the landlord has a moral duty to do so. He does not, and therefore the right does not exist.

Of course, we neither encourage nor support a society, culture, or environment in which this form of discrimination occurs, whether for sexual, gender, racial, or religious reasons. But we affirm the right of people to use their property as they see fit, even if they are being unfair or unreasonable in so doing. Sister Marriott’s call to “affirm the rights of the many without taking away from the rights of the few” actually lends support to the idea that these measures should be opposed; legally forcing property owners to associate with persons they may otherwise not wish to associate with undermines the property rights of those owners at the expense of creating legal protections for a certain class of people.

Elder Oaks likewise referenced a “steady erosion of treasured freedoms” at the heart of his concern for supporting religious liberty along with housing and employment protections for LGBT persons. However, anti-discrimination laws themselves erode the treasured freedoms of association and private property. As James Madison once articulated, “a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them…, a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions and in the profession and practice dictated by them…, an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them…, [and] a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.”

It is likewise important to note that these fundamental freedoms are at the foundation of religious liberty, which is the Church’s expressed concern. Only when a person is free to associate with whom he pleases, and manage or dispose property in ways he deems best, can religious liberty be adequate and active. In their absence a person would have the right to internally believe as they wish—no government can outlaw a person’s belief system, try as it might—but the outward expression of an inward faith, including baptism, congregating, service, religious ordinances, etc., would be unattainable without the foundational freedoms that anti-discrimination laws violate.

Elder Holland’s remarks focused on institutional and individual protections for persons who wish to act in accordance with their faith. But the issue is larger than religion—a person who wishes to rent apartments in his complex only to senior citizens, or Mormons, or single adults, or white males, should be free to do so. No person is entitled to another person’s property.

It should also be noted that anti-discrimination law is entirely reasonable to the extent it is constrained only to government actors; no person required to pay taxes should be denied services or protections on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. But it is entirely another matter to force property owners to act similarly, even for the ideal (if, at times, nebulous) goal of “fairness.”

To emphasize: we agree that, as Church officials in today’s press conference counseled, there should be no bigotry, bullying or persecution. We, too, desire there to be fairness and kindness and peace; we oppose unfair and unreasonable discrimination. To that end, we welcome and praise the Church and other influential members of society in advocating for and teaching the principles of kindness and civility. The question is whether the “solutions” proposed are the right means to achieve those laudable ends. As they rely on force—compelling property owners to associate with certain persons they may wish not to—we must, to be consistent with our guiding principles, oppose the proposed legislation that would use the coercive arm of the state to compel this behavior.

Undermining fundamental property rights is just as concerning as undermining fundamental religious rights, free speech rights, or free association rights. Religious liberty does not exist in a vacuum, nor should it be viewed in that light. The use of government power to compel behavior is only appropriate when employed in the protection of rights—and not at their expense, as in this case.

Elder Holland, in closing, stated, “We must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs, values, and behaviors differ from our own, while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs, values, and behaviors in the process.” We completely agree. Importantly, he continued, “Every citizen’s rights are best guarded when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.” We cannot agree more—and therefore oppose the proposed legislation.