Two days ago, the House State Affairs Committee killed Rep. Lance Russell’s bill dealing with people’s rights to criticize or act against people on the basis of sexual orientation. This was my lede:
For the second time in two days, South Dakota lawmakers Wednesday shot down a bill aimed at protecting people’s freedom to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Yesterday, Russell approached me and, in a light-hearted manner, reproached me for not writing a “down-the-middle” article and describing him as wanting to “discriminate.”
My primary response was regret that Wednesday night I hadn’t written this blog post, which I had considered but put off, explaining my choice of terminology.
"Discrimination" is a tricky word. In common parlance, people use it pejoratively. To be accused of discrimination is a pretty serious charge.
But discrimination also has a more neutral, clinical legal meaning, the spirit in which I chose the word: “unequal treatment of persons, for a reason which has nothing to do with legal rights or ability.”
Not all discrimination, in this sense, is illegal or even immoral. (This is also the origin of the phrase that someone has “discriminating tastes” — a compliment.)
More to the point, I couldn’t think of any other word that succinctly summarized laws protecting people’s rights to treat people differently on the sole basis of sexual orientation. That’s discrimination; some people consider it to be terrible discrimination, others consider it to be defensible or morally laudable discrimination.
There are ways to describe that verbosely. Does anyone have any suggestions for better words that are both neutral and brief?