Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are sponsoring a bill to make it legal for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the grounds of "sincerely held religious beliefs." According to the Tennesseean newspaper, the Republicans are attempting to strike preemptively against court decisions recognizing same-sex marriages by enshrining a so-called "Turn Away the Gays" bill into law.
The state Senate panel will meet next week to debate the measure, which would allow businesses to turn away same-sex couples even if the state's current laws against same-sex marriage are struck down. Lawmakers say they are protecting the rights of Christian wedding vendors, bakeries, florists and other wedding professionals.
“We want to make sure we protect the conscience and religious freedom of businesses,” said state Sen. Mike Bell (R), who sponsored the bill.
Senate Bill 2566 was originally sponsored by Memphis state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R), but when the measure began to attract national attention, he withdrew his name, fearing controversy.
"I've heard many mixed reviews from the constituents regarding protecting religious freedoms in this state, so I've decided not to sponsor the legislation," Sen. Kelsey told Nashville's FOX13 News.
Bell, however, is ready to pick up where Kelsey left off.
“I think it’s more wrong to force people to violate their conscience,” he told the Tennesseean, than to ask them not to deny service to whole swaths of society.
Conservatives are peddling these types of bills in a number of states where wedding professionals have been sued for refusing to provide services to same-sex weddings. The anti-LGBT businesses insist that practicing their company policies equally and fairly for all people across the board is a greater strain on their faith than they should be asked to bear.
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project said to the Tennessean that the Republican legislation is wrong-headed and "sends the wrong message about Tennessee."
He pointed out that refusing to serve LGBT customers is the same as discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.
“Why not hang signs on the doors telling every group you don’t want to serve?” he said.
In Kansas, Republican lawmakers are advancing a bill that would allow public and private institutions to deny same-sex couples consideration for counseling, adoption rights and serving as foster families. The Kansas proposal would also protect businesses from lawsuits incurred by their refusal to provide services to families headed by same-sex couples.
[image of lesbians figurines atop wedding cake via Shutterstock.com]