02 Jan 2009

Arizona Bar Considering Oath to Defend Homosexuals

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Yuma Sun:

The State Bar of Arizona is weighing whether to require new lawyers to swear they won’t let their views on someone’s sexual orientation affect their duty, a move foes said could force attorneys to represent clients whose view they find personally offensive.

Existing rules require an oath saying lawyers “will not permit considerations of gender, race, age, nationality, disability or social standing to influence my duty of care.” The plan being weighed by the bar’s board adds sexual orientation to that list.

Not signing the new oath, if it is adopted, is not an option: Attorneys cannot practice law in Arizona without being admitted to the bar.

The move has provoked severe objections from 31 attorneys who sent a letter to state bar President Ed Novak.

Tim Casey, one of those who is unhappy with the proposal, said it raises all sorts of issues. At the very least, he said, the wording “is so very vague it’s scary.” …

Federal law and federal courts have spelled out that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, age and similar factors. The oath, Casey said, simply mirrors those laws, much in the in the same way that lawyers swear to uphold the state and federal constitutions.

Casey said any move to make sexual orientation one of these “protected classes” should be decided by lawmakers or courts, not by the board of the state bar. …

Casey said he sees a broader agenda at work.

“There are people trying to make it difficult for professionals to exercise their religious convictions, their moral objections or their ethical objections in cases.”

So if a gay activist in Phoenix decides, for example, to sue the Catholic Church to force it to perform gay marriages, any individual attorney, regardless of his political, social, and religious views, could be forced to represent the complaintant under pain of penalties from the state bar.

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