“Religious Freedom” Bill Rolls Back Anti-Discrimination Protections Say LGBTQ Advocates


A proposed law that would allow certain businesses to refuse services based upon religious grounds is drawing the ire of the advocates who fought to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

When he describes his proposal, Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Baxter) immediately wants people to know what his “religious freedom” bill was not. “This is not a bill to discriminate against gays and lesbians. This is not a bill to prevent a gay couple from getting the services they need for a wedding service,” are the first words out of his mouth. “This bill is not a bill to end gay marriage.”

OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Monica Meyer sees it as an attack on human rights. “Our opponents are continuing their attempts to roll back gains we’ve made for LGBTQ equality. Minnesotans are rightfully proud of our state as a leader in eliminating discrimination, and this bill would take us in the wrong direction.”

Gazelka says his bill is different than the recent “religious freedom” bill that was passed and then amended in Indiana. That bill broadly covered many types of businesses. His focuses only on wedding related businesses. It says no business or clergy member must provide goods or services “if that action would cause the individual or business to violate a sincerely held belief regarding whether marriage is only the union of one man or one woman.”

The law is targeted to protect small companies with with 20 or fewer employees, and businesses may not refuse service if it presents “substantial hardship” to potential customers.

Preview of 2016 election issue?

Gazelka was one of the authors of a failed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Backlash against the amendment is one of the reasons Republicans lost their legislative majorities in 2012 and same-sex marriage was made legal in 2013.

Outfront Minnesota, which was one of the organizers of the campaign against the amendment, told supporters in a newsletter that “this is yet another sign that opponents of equity for LGBTQ people will not stop in their efforts to make discrimination law, and that they will push hard next year, when the entire Minnesota Legislature is up for election.”

It has been illegal to discriminate against Minnesotans based upon sexual orientation since the state passed the Human Rights act in 1993. The law provides exemptions for religious organizations, but not businesses.

With the legislative session ending in less than two weeks, the bill has no chance of becoming law this year. However, Gazelka is introducing it now to start the process so it could possibly pass next year.

Co-authors of the bill are Republican Sens. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake and Dan Hall of Burnsville. Gazelka says no DFL Senators were willing to sign on as supporters.

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