Texas lawmaker proposes 'license to discriminate' against LGBT

Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell reintroduced a joint resolution to amend the state constitution to allow legal discrimination based on religious beliefs.

By Gabrielle Levy
Texas lawmaker proposes 'license to discriminate' against LGBT
UPI/Bill Greenblatt | License Photo

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- A conservative Texas lawmaker is trying for the second time to pass a state constitutional amendment that would allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBT customers on the basis of religious belief.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, introduced a resolution that would ostensibly bolster religious freedom in the state, a measure nearly identical to one she introduced two years ago.


Under Senate Joint Resolution 10,

Government may not burden an individual's or religious organization's freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. For purposes of this subsection, the term "burden" includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, and denying access to facilities or programs.

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These measures are known as "license to discriminate" laws because they respond to a series of conflicts where small business owners in several states have refused service to LGBT customers on ostensibly religious grounds. Another motivation for the laws is religion as a justification to fire or avoid hiring LGBT employees.


The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by the legislature in 1999, prevents a government agency from "substantially burdening a person's free exercise of religion" unless the government "has a compelling interest to do so."

The RFRA also includes an exception for enforcement of civil rights, which Joint Resolution 10 does not.

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Campbell said her proposed amendment would put religious freedom in "a more formidable position" than the RFRA by elevating it to the state constitution.

While debating Campbell's first resolution last April, objecting lawmakers floated concerns that the measure would have unintended consequences, from obliterating restrictions that keep Westboro Baptist Church protesters 500 feet away from military funerals to abortions becoming classified as a religious right that would have to be taxpayer-funded.

To pass, the amendment would need to win approval of two-thirds of the legislature and be approved by voters in a November election.

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Similar proposals have failed in Kansas, North Carolina, South Dakota, Arizona and Oregon, but have been put into law in Mississippi and Kentucky.

It is legal to fire an LGBT person on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states, and a transgendered person in 32 states. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination for gay and transgender employees, passed the U.S. Senate last year, but was not put to a vote in the House.


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