Archives Find of the Month: Initiative 13 and the “Unnatural Practices Commission”

Home » Archives Find of the Month: Initiative 13 and the “Unnatural Practices Commission”

286838-excerptThroughout 1978, Seattle’s citizens vigorously debated Initiative 13, which aimed to remove sexual orientation from the city’s Fair Employment and Open Housing ordinances. This would have the effect of making it legal once again to discriminate against gays and lesbians in housing and the workplace.

In the midst of the debates and demonstrations, some anti-13 activists filed an initiative petition of their own, which sought to establish an Unnatural Practices Commission. This commission would include an officer of the John Birch Society as one of its seven members, and was to enforce standards of behavior and “exempt certain purveyors of unnatural practices from the civil rights to employment and housing” – namely, the same thing Initiative 13 was attempting to do to gays and lesbians.

How did the petitioners define “unnatural practices”? To begin with, they claimed that “over ninety per cent of the child molestation incidents reported to medical and/or legal authorities in the City of Seattle have involved abuse perpetrated by heterosexual males.” Therefore, it was proposed that no heterosexual male should be protected by civil rights ordinances if his work involved contact with minors, or if a minor lived within 1000 feet of him.

The long list of others with unnatural practices included “males who shave the corners of their beards,” “persons who work on the Christian sabbath,” “persons who drink coffee, tea or alcoholic beverages,” and “men who carry bags or purses, women who wear pants and eunuchs who wear anything.”

The proposed ordinance also made some organizational changes within the city, stating, “The powers of the Department of Human Rights shall be transferred to the Director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol…The powers of the Office of Women’s Rights shall be transferred to a METRO bus heading toward Burien.” The final section of the ordinance reads, “The duration of this ordinance shall be eternal.”

City agencies engaged in some internal debate regarding whether to certify the initiative for signature gathering, given that the measure “is so clearly and palpably unconstitutional or illegal in most respects.” City Attorney Doug Jewett wrote a lengthy legal analysis, listing federal and state constitutional provisions clearly violated by the proposed ordinance. However, he could find “no authority under judicial precedent in Washington to reject the measure or refuse to process the same,” so a ballot title was supplied.

In the end, the sponsors did not turn in signatures for the initiative, and may not have even attempted to gather them, as they were mainly looking for publicity for the anti-Initiative 13 cause. In the end, a majority of Seattle’s citizens came down on their side, and Initiative 13 ended up being defeated by a significant margin.

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