by Bruce Barry
Apparently there wasn't room for an accurate headline, like "Bill authorizes bigotry and discrimination," so the good folks down at 1100 Broadway went with "allows faith objections" instead. Please. The measure (SB 2566) described in the story, which comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, is nothing short of a license for private enterprise to make anti-LGBT hate into a viable business strategy.
Desperate to halt political and social momentum toward widespread acceptance of same-sex unions, sponsors of the bill want to use public policy to ensure that businesses can refuse service "related to the celebration of any civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the state" if it violates "sincerely held religious beliefs...regarding sex or gender." Translation: if your religious beliefs cajole you into hating gay people, you are free in running your business to deny them employment, goods, services, or accommodations without fear of being sued by private parties or acted against by government under any kind of local nondiscrimination law or policy.
The Tennessean story neglects to mention that SB2566 (and its House companion HB2467) are patterned on a model bill developed by an offshoot of the D.C.-based Ethics & Public Policy Center, which fashions itself a think tank "dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy." We're not sure how Judeo-Christian principles fit in, but this is an organization that confuses bigotry with freedom, at least to judge by this declaration by the EPPC's president in testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last year: "The sweeping application of non-discrimination principles poses an increasingly severe threat to civil liberties."
Although the bill purports to be about gay marriage, not about being gay generally, Mark Joseph Stern at Slate (writing about a similar bill introduced in Kansas) points to the "breathtaking" potential sweep of these bills:
The law’s advocates claim that it applies only to gay couples—but there’s no clear limiting principle in the text of the bill that would keep it from applying to gay individuals as well. A catch-all clause allows businesses and bureaucrats to discriminate against gay people so long as this discrimination is somehow "related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement." This subtle loophole is really just a blank check to discriminate: As long as an individual believes that his service is somehow linked to a gay union of any form, he can legally refuse his services. And since anyone who denies gays service is completely shielded from any charges, no one will ever have to prove that their particular form of discrimination fell within the four corners of the law.
The Kansas version passed their House but was derailed when the Kansas Senate's GOP leader announced last week that she doesn't support it because she and her members "don't condone discrimination." Fancy that. Your move, Beth.
A version of this post also appears at BruceBarry.net.