A controversial bill proposed by Republicans in Washington state would allow businesses to use their “sincerely held religious beliefs” to openly discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.
The bill carves out a specific exception to the state’s nondiscrimination law that says only federal protections - such as race, religion, or disability - apply when a person’s religious belief is “burdened.” As the bill states:
“Nothing in this section may burden a person or religious organization’s freedom of religion including, but not limited to, the right of an individual or entity to deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual’s or entity owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience. This subsection does not apply to the denial of services to individuals recognized as a protected class under federal law applicable to the state as of the effective date of this section. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief, or matter of conscience may not be burdened unless the government proves that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.”
As expected, the bill has brought about a storm of public opinion, including one activist who called the bill’s sponsors to understand their reasons for supporting the act.
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His central question, “What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won’t sell them gas and food?” has already elicited laughable responses from the bill’s supporters.
One such response, from a staffer at state Sen. Mike Hewitt’s (R) office, said, “Well, gay people can just grow their own food.”
Sen. Sharon Brown (R), the bill’s primary sponsor, has also come under fire in the past for her harsh stance against gay rights. Arlene’s Flowers, a business operating in Brown’s district, is currently facing two lawsuits because it refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
As far as her opinion on the matter involving Arlene’s Flowers, Brown said simply, “There’s a glaring lack of protection for religion in state law.”
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She argued that the bill is not intended to undermine the law or the rights or gays and lesbians in the state and isn't a commentary on same-sex marriage.
"The citizens of the state clearly weighed in on that issue," she said. "It's all intended to protect religious freedoms."