John M. Becker

'Right to Discriminate' Bills Still Alive in AZ, MS, Elsewhere

Filed By John M. Becker | March 05, 2014 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-discrimination law, Arizona, Christianists, Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, religious exemption, religious privilege, South Dakota, special rights

quit_squirming.jpgGovernor Jan Brewer wisely vetoed a bill last week that would have expanded the ability of people and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people in Arizona. But there's another bill currently awaiting consideration that would create a "license to discriminate" for local officials charged with marrying couples.

ThinkProgress's Zack Ford reports:

House Bill 2481, which is awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives after passing out of committee, purports to protect ministers from having to officiate weddings they don't believe in. This seems to anticipate the arrival of marriage equality across all 50 states from a court decision in the not-too-far future. In no state have religious leaders or organizations ever been forced to violate their religious practices in observance of a same-sex wedding, so the bill seems largely benign and unnecessary.

Where the problem arises is how the law defines "minister." Rather than just its standard definition of religious official, this bill expands it to mean anybody who can officiate a wedding...

This would mean that judges, justices of the peace, and county clerks could exercise the same privilege of refusing to officiate a same-sex marriage. Though this bill would only have an effect in the hypothetical future when marriage equality arrives in Arizona, its effect in that scenario would be incredibly problematic.

The state only has 15 counties, so it's not inconceivable that if even if only one of those county clerks refused same-sex couples, it would create a significant burden for those couples, who would then have to travel to a different county just to exercise their own right to marry.

Awful, right? To make matters worse, lawmakers in Mississippi advanced a "right to discriminate" bill of their own yesterday.

Details after the break.

Deep South Progressive has the story:

The "right to discriminate" remains intact in a proposed amended version of a Mississippi bill that some are calling the state's "Turn Away the Gays" bill. The House Judiciary B Civil Subcommittee's amended version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does little to remove the problematic elements of the bill that had gay rights activists in full revolt Wednesday.

The bill, obtained by Deep South Progressive, still says that state action cannot "compel any action contrary to a person's exercise of religion" and continues to define "exercise of religion" to mean "the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one's sincerely held religious belief."

Those key parts of the bill, which LGBT activists feared would legitimize discrimination by businesses that claim "sincerely held religious belief" as the motivating factor, remain unchanged. That's contrary to previous reports that said the bill had been amended to only include the section that would add "In God We Trust" to the Mississippi state seal.

Despite that, leaders of the state business community were declaring victory Wednesday night, saying that the bill addressed the concerns of the business community. The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), said that SB 2681, as amended, "provides both positive clarification and focused direction so that the amended bill addresses only actions by government, not private businesses or individuals."

The ACLU has confirmed that the Mississippi bill in its current form still provides a license to discriminate. It now heads to the full House for a floor vote, which could happen anytime before March 14.

CNN reports that similar bills also remain alive -- in one form or another -- in Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, and South Dakota.

Stay tuned, folks. This ain't over yet.

Cartoon by artist Mike Ritter of the GA Voice.


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