It didn’t end with Arizona. Before the state’s infamous SB 1062 (aka “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act,”) was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer earlier this month, a number of other states had prepared similar proposals that tout protecting religious freedom as a justification for discriminating against the LGBTQ community. Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee also had similar bills making their way through their statehouses—and the resulting backlash was similar to the backlash we saw this week in Arizona. In these states, the discriminatory bills failed.
The next wave of fights against anti-gay legislation will take place in five states: Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Bills were shelved or failed to pass in Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Tennessee, and Utah. In all of the states where the bills have been proposed, the supporters insist that bills are not a license to discriminate against gay Americans, but instead a necessary protection of religious freedom.
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The bills are at different points in the legislative process in each state. In Georgia, there are actually two bills—one in each chamber—that have yet to be put up for votes and both are modeled after the now-vetoed Arizona law. Both pieces of legislation claim to give citizens “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs.”
Just like they did in Arizona, the Atlanta-based Delta Airlines put out a statement “strongly opposing” the proposed bills—a signal that business interests that could lose profits in states that pass hateful legislation. And we all know that the almighty dollar is what ultimately will drive the failure and success of most legislature.
Idaho’s version of the bill, HB 427, was proposed after the now-famous New Mexico case where a photographer was sued after he refused to photograph a same sex wedding. Thankfully, it isn’t expected to pass.
Mississippi is another place where the concept of “religious freedom restoration” has crept into the state’s agenda. There, a bill passed the state’s senate at the beginning of the year. However, Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant seems cautious and says that he has directed the state’s legal team to examine the broadly-constructed law that experts say will open the door to discrimination. There is expected to be a vote later this week.
Each of these states have introduced bills that would result in businesses having the right to refuse service to any person they feel would violate their religious beliefs. The backlash against these bills has been loud and fierce. Progressives and the conservative business community have joined together to oppose the legislation and to put pressure on legislators and governors to reject the legislation.
None of these states wants a boycott and with state budgets nationwide struggling to recover from the Great Recession, none of them can afford to lose the revenues generated by businesses and tourism. As bans on marriage equality are struck down in conservative states like Virginia and Texas, these religious freedom bills seem to keep popping up in response to the expansion of equal rights for gays. Hopefully, this culture war will remain just that and those who want to reside on the wrong side of history will not be able to impact the lives of others who simply want to live, love and function as they so please.