A bill introduced by Washington state legislators on Thursday is seeking to allow businesses to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws in cases that contradict with the owner’s “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.”
It was introduced by Republican Senator Sharon Brown, who said there was a “glaring lack of protection for religion in state law”.
Denial of services to people of a certain race, religion, or disability would not be allowed by the bill, as federal law considers them protected classes. However, LGBT people do not have this protection.
This follows shortly after lawsuits were filed against a Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay couple, telling them “I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The US state of Washington’s attorney general filed a lawsuit earlier in April against Arlene’s Flowers, which refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding, despite having served them previously.
The consumer protection action filed seeks $2000 (£1300), in fines, as well as requiring Arlene’s Flowers to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Shortly after, the American Civil Liberties Union also filed a lawsuit against the florist on behalf of the couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, naming them as plaintiffs and seeking damages on their behalf.
Senator Brown’s bill seeks to protect businesses like Arlene’s Flowers. Senators Janea Holmquist Newbry, Mike Hewitt, Jim Honeyford, Don Benton, Barbara Bailey, Mike Padden, John Braun, John Smith, Ann Rivers, and Linda Evans Parlette also signed the bill.
Gay Democratic Senator Ed Murray was among those who opposed the bill. He said: “I don’t think we want to go into our civil rights laws and decide who gets served and who doesn’t get served.”