Saturday, February 11, 2006

Eminent Domain is a Gay Rights Issue

Eminent domain laws are often used to the advantage of the politically well-connected classes at the expense of those that are out of favor. Be honest, when was the last time you heard of a rich white guy's house in the suburbs being condemned? A perfect example is illustrated in this Washington Blade article which describes the forceful displacement of "gay entertainment businesses" in favor of a new Washington DC sports stadium.

Tracy Hughes, a spokesperson for Spagnoletti [the DC Attorney General], said the office issued eviction notices to all property owners and occupants two months ago. She said the court has already transferred the ownership of the property on the stadium site to the city and that the process cannot be reversed.

"If the stadium deal falls through for whatever reason," Hughes said, "the land remains in the sole possession of the city."

In trying to relocate, the owners of the gay businesses face the catch-22 situation of having to meet both zoning and licensing requirements, neither of which favor the rights of minorities. The zoning laws require that they cannot locate anywhere but in or near the central district. But even there, sexually-oriented businesses require a variance, and there are other reasons why this district may be unsuitable.

Gay business owners have said excessively high rents and restrictions against operating near residential buildings would likely make it impossible for them to move to the central business district, even if they were to win a zoning variance.

Both the zoning laws and the current licensing laws, prevent them from relocating to a lower-rent district that may be more suitable. Says a sympathetic Councilmember:

"Assuming these licenses are sexually oriented businesses, I am now informed that there is nowhere in the District where these licensees may move as a matter of right. . . Indeed, the zoning regulations prohibit them from transferring anywhere except to the central business district and nearby areas."

Proper respect for the property rights of the gay business owners would have prevented this blow to the local gay community. When these eminent domain, zoning, and licensing laws were put on the books, no one who supported them at the time thought these affronts to property rights would be used against them. LGBT individuals should ask themselves, if not for use by majorities against minorities, why else would these laws exist?