Last week, twelve Republican senators introduced a bill seeking exemption from Washington’s anti-discrimination laws. The bill proposes to exempt businesses from obeying laws that give people the right to be treated equally regardless of sex, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. If passed, the bill would allow Washington businesses to refuse services to gay and lesbian customers, if doing so conflicts with their religious or philosophical beliefs.
The proposal of Senate Bill 5927 comes just weeks after a lawsuit against a Washington florist who refused to supply flowers for the same-sex marriage service of two longtime patrons of her shop. According to the Associated Press, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, told customers Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed that she could not provide flowers for their wedding because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”
On April 10, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection suit against Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, saying, “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”
Washington voters legalized same-sex marriage in November and, in 2006, sexual orientation nondiscrimination took effect in the(ir) state. Sen. Sharon Brown (R-Kennewick), who introduced Senate Bill 5927, and her cosignatories are not concerned with discrimination based on sexual orientation; rather, they say the legislation is intended to protect people and religious organizations from legal persecution.
“There’s a glaring lack of protection for religion in state law,” she said.
Last month, Kentucky Senator Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville) proposed similar legislation that allowed Kentuckians to sidestep anti-discrimination laws in the name of “sincerely held beliefs.”
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.