Several Republican lawmakers filed a bill Thursday seeking an exemption to the state’s anti-discrimination laws just weeks after legal action was taken against a Richland, Wash., florist who denied service to a gay couple for their upcoming wedding.
The bill introduced by Sen. Sharon Brown (R-Kennewick), would allow businesses the right to deny services or goods if they felt doing so was contrary to their “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.”
The measure would not apply to the denial of services to people under a protected class under federal law, such as race, religion or disability.
Brown said the measure seeks to protect people or religious organizations from legal persecution. “There’s a glaring lack of protection for religion in state law,” she said.
The bill has not yet been referred to a committee or scheduled for a public hearing, and is not likely to before the regular legislative session ends on Sunday.
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state filed a lawsuit in response to a March 1 incident in which Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide flowers for Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed’s wedding, despite the two men being longtime patrons of her shop – Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, which is in Brown’s legislative district.
Protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation were codified in 2006. Under state law, it’s illegal for businesses to refuse to sell goods, merchandise and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.
Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Equal Rights Washington, said that the bill seeks to undermine the state’s anti-discrimination laws “and it undermines our entire approach to ensuring the equality of all Washingtonians in commerce.”
“It is discrimination, pure and simple,” he said.
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