These States Are Fighting to Refuse Services to Gays

Despite growing national acceptance, some legislators are pushing anti-gay policies.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Feb 13, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Sarah Parvini is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles.
No shirt, no shoes, no homosexuals.

That's the latest anti-gay line coming from religious groups bringing forth a flurry of new state bills seeking ways to refuse providing goods and services to LGBT couples.

On Wednesday, the Kansas House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow people and businesses to refuse service based on sexual orientation or marital status—if doing so would be contrary to the “sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual.”

State Rep. Charles Macheers drafted the proposed legislation and argued it would prevent “hurtful” discrimination, claiming the bill would give business owners their right to religious freedom.

“There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular,” Macheers said. “This bill provides a shield of protection for that.”

The bill advanced with a 7249 vote, with both Democrats and Republicans arguing against it.

“I vote no,” Republican Rep. Don Hineman said on the House floor. “My closely held religious belief is that God is love.”

The measure is one of a handful of proposals across the country that seek to strengthen religious rights while oppressing the LGBT community. Legislators in Arizona, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all put forth anti-gay proposals in recent months.

The LGBT community has made major gains in the past decade. In 2013, for the first time, a slim majority of Americans said they favored same-sex marriage, while 42 percent opposed it, according to Pew researchers. They also found that 72 percent of Americans say legal recognition of same-sex marriage is “inevitable,” regardless of whether they're in favor of or opposed to it.

Despite the progressive tide, legislators haven't given up on anti-gay legislation, even though the laws often spur lawsuits from opposing groups.

Last December, a Colorado judge ruled that a bakery owner illegally discriminated against a gay couple when he refused to make them a wedding cake, even though the state doesn’t recognize gay marriages. In another high-profile example, the Supreme Court is debating whether it will hear a case involving a photographer in New Mexico who came under fire for refusing to take photos for a lesbian commitment ceremony, Time reports.

Kansas’ bill would require that government agencies ensure employees are available to provide services if one worker refuses for religious reasons. Still, the proposal only cements legal discrimination by giving government employees license to treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens, said Thomas Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition.

“This isn't just a gay rights issue," Witt said. "This goes against the fabric of what it means to be an American.”

The bill comes on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement of benefit expansions to same-sex couples and the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s federal ban on same-sex marriage.

“This is a proactive step to protect religious liberties,” said Robert Nowland, executive director of the Christian group Kansas Family Policy Council. “We're not saying they can't get a wedding cake or a photographer or florists. We’re just saying people who disagree with that agenda shouldn't be compelled to act against their beliefs.”

Kansas' current anti-discrimination laws don't include protections based on sexual orientation. Those who oppose gay marriage can already refuse service to a same-sex couple if they don’t agree with their lifestyle, according to Kansas lawmaker Emily Perry.

Perry said that while she supports religious freedoms, she opposes the bill because she can’t endorse discrimination.

“I don't see fighting for this bill as being brave,” she said. “Doing the right thing is doing the right thing.”