A proposed bill being considered by the California House of Representatives is seeking to criminalize skilled nursing workers who fail to use the preferred pronouns of their patients who identify as transgenders.
SB 219, also known as the "Long-term care facilities: rights of residents" bill, was introduced by state senator Scott Wiener in February, according to Catholic News Agency (CNA). The measure has already been passed by California's state senate, and it has been moved to the House of Representatives for consideration after being recommended by the state assembly's judiciary committee.
Under the legislation, nursing homes and long-term care workers who refuse to call their patients by their preferred pronouns can be punished with fines of up to $1,000, or jail time for up to a year, or both. It also seeks to punish those who do not allow their patients to use their desired restroom "regardless of whether the resident is making a gender transition or appears to be gender-nonconforming."
Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, expressed concern that the measure could unjustly target religious facilities and place excessive burden on an already-heavily regulated industry.
He told CNA that the bill "would potentially compromise some of the institutions that are religiously sponsored and would not want to be supportive" of gender identity room or bathroom assignments.
Dolejsi further noted that the bill seemed to be solving a problem that was not there, as there had not been widespread reports of gender-based discrimination in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in California.
According to Christian News Network, Wiener had cited a 2011 study, in which 43 percent of the participants claimed they had personally experienced discrimination or witnessed a homosexual or transgender being mistreated.
The California Family Council, which had testified against the measure in July, noted that Wiener had said during the hearing of the bill that it does not carry an exemption for people of faith.
"The argument that religious views can create an exemption for civil rights laws or complying with civil rights laws is a highly radical notion," the senator said at the time.
"Everyone is entitled to their religious view, but when you enter the public space; when you are running an institution, you are in a workplace, you are in a civil setting, and you have to follow the law," he added.
Greg Burt, with the California Family Council, argued during the hearing that the measure would infringe on the First Amendment rights of workers by compelling them to use speech with which they do not agree.
The California Catholic Conference has expressed plans to advocate for a veto if the bill is signed into law. Dolejsi called on concerned Catholics to contact their elected officials by email or phone to voice their concerns about the bill.