'License to Discriminate' Bills Lose in Maine, Advance in Arizona

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com February 20 2014 5:55 PM ET

So-called religious freedom bills that would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people and some other groups if serving them would violate the business operator’s religious beliefs received several setbacks and one advance in state legislatures this week.

Today in Maine, the House of Representatives rejected such a bill by an 89-52 vote, two days after the State Senate voted it down as well, the Portland Press Herald reports. In Arizona, however, the Senate yesterday passed a similar bill, and it was set for debate this afternoon in the House, where approval is likely, according to The Arizona Republic. In both states, the votes came along party lines, with Republicans for the legislation, Democrats against.

These bills, often called “license to discriminate” legislation, have been introduced in several states in the wake of complaints against businesses that refuse to provide goods or services for same-sex weddings. The Arizona bill is a rare example of success, though.

In four other states Tuesday — Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota, and Tennessee — lawmakers “either voted down, blocked, or backtracked on legislation in the states that would have allowed individuals, religious organizations, businesses, and, in the case of Kansas, government employees to discriminate against LGBT people in the form of denying services and other recognition based on religious beliefs,” BuzzFeed reports.

This was “a very important rebuffing of the latest antigay and antichoice tactics, but I wouldn’t say that we’re out of the woods yet,” Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, told BuzzFeed.

The House vote on the Maine bill came “after a lengthy, spirited debate Thursday morning,” the Press Herald reports. Its main section said the state could not interfere with a person’s exercise of religion without a compelling interest, but the bill’s opponents believed it would give religious cover for discrimination. “It would give the ability to discriminate against anyone if it violates their religious beliefs,” said Rep. Andrew McLean, who is gay. Maine is a marriage equality state.

Proponents of the Arizona legislation denied that it would promote discrimination. “This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” said its sponsor, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, during debate, according to the Republic. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

Sen. Steve Gallardo, an opponent, wasn’t buying that. “The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and lesbians,” he said. “You can’t argue the fact that bill will invite discrimination. That’s the point of this bill. It is.”