That Arizona sure is backward. Nothing like that anti-gay-rights stuff down there is going to happen here in our enlightened state.
Except local Republicans here were shopping the same anti-gay-rights, pro-religious-liberty legislation as the one that just got the nation all riled up about Arizona. And when I say it was the same, I mean that once you get past the preambles and whereases, the bill here is nearly word for word the same as Arizona’s.
Down there, they called it Senate Bill 1062, relating to free exercise of religion. The governor of Arizona vetoed it after a national outcry that it was tantamount to a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Technically, it would have provided a legal defense for people or business owners to deny services to certain customers, as long as they were motivated by religious beliefs.
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Our bill, introduced at a work session of the state Senate’s Law and Justice Committee last fall, is called the “First Freedom Preservation Act.” It was offered up by that committee’s chairman, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, but has yet to be formally filed in the Legislature.
It has all the same problems as Arizona’s bill. Because it’s essentially the same bill. It takes two competing principles — the religious concerns of a business owner and the customer’s right to be free from discrimination — and elevates the religious side.
“They want religion to trump,” says Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, who is on the committee and reviewed the Arizona-like bill last fall. Kline says he advised Republicans that people here would freak out if they ran with the bill.
They sure freaked out in Arizona. It also happened on a smaller level here last spring, when Padden and 10 other state senators first dropped a proposal even more retrograde than Arizona’s. (One of these senators, Janea Holmquist Newbry, of Moses Lake, is now running for Congress.)
Their measure, Senate Bill 5927, bluntly spelled out the true intent of these efforts. It asked to put into state law a “right to deny services” to certain people if you felt so moved by your faith. It took the state’s entire anti-discrimination code and amended it to say that “nothing in this section may burden a person or religious organization’s freedom of religion.” Meaning you could probably fire someone just for being gay as long as you said God wanted you to do it.
Churches and private religious organizations have always been able to do this sort of thing (hello, Eastside Catholic).
But at this point in our history, I really don’t understand this push among some Republicans and some businesses for a legal “right to deny services.”
First, it doesn’t seem very Christian. Second, it doesn’t seem like good business. Here’s an experiment: If someone can’t abide doing flowers or cakes for gay weddings, just put a sign up in the shop window that says “sorry, no gay weddings, for religious reasons.” The market will make sure that wish is fulfilled. And then some.
So do any of these bills have any chance of passing here? Not now, not with a Democratic House and governor. But when state senators from Spokane are rolling out bills strangely identical to bills down in Arizona, there’s obviously a large and persistent movement at work.
“I remember during the civil-rights era when I was young and idealistic, and I thought progress would be linear,” Kline said. “We’d march steadily forward. But it isn’t like that. You make gains, and then you get pulled back. So you have to keep at it constantly.
He added: “This stuff that’s going on with these religious bills — these aren’t little steps back. They’re trying to leap back. To another time.”
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org