The office of Washington Senator Mike Hewitt reportedly told a constituent who was concerned about his backing of a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people that they should “just grow their own food” if barred from using local shops.
Mr Hewitt is one of the sponsors of a bill introduced for debate in Washington state last Thursday, which seeks 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.”
Jay Castro, a constituent of Mr Hewitt’s district of Walla-Walla, told The Stranger that he was outraged to hear about the bill, which has gained widespread publicity in the state despite being unlikely to pass.
“Regardless of if it’s just a publicity stunt, it’s my livelihood and my life that’s on the line,” he said. “I fought very hard for gay rights in Spokane in the 90s, as a kid.”
With this motivation he called Mr Hewitt’s office on Friday and asked the staffer on the line: “What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won’t sell them gas and food?”
According to Mr Castro, the response was: “Well, gay people can just grow their own food.”
Mr Castro says he then asked the staffer for his name and was told: “I don’t have to tell you that,” followed by: “Don’t call here again.” The staffer then hung up.
The Stranger reports that when they attempted to follow up on Mr Castro’s call, Mr Hewitt’s staff redirected them to a spokesperson for the state Republicans, who also hung up on them.
The bill was introduced 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.