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Texas Rep. Wants to Protect Antigay Bigots as 'Conscientious Objectors'

Texas Rep. Wants to Protect Antigay Bigots as 'Conscientious Objectors'

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Texas Rep. Cecil Bill introduced legislation designed to let individuals refuse to serve LGBT people as a 'conscientious objector.'

The latest piece of antigay legislation introduced in Texas would allow almost anyone to refuse to serve LGBT people based on a "sincerely held religious belief."

The "Marriage and Religious Rights Ensured Act," introduced Thursday by Rep. Cecil Bell, Jr. -- who featured prominently at last month's ceremonial cake-cutting to prematurely celebrate a decade of the state's constitutional ban on marriage equality -- as House Bill 3602, claims to provide for the "religious freedom of a conscientious objector to act or fail to act with respect to certain issues of marriage, sexual relations, and gender."

If passed as written, HB 3602 would prohibit any government agency from taking any action that would place the conscientious objector "in a worse position than the person was in before the action was taken." The phrase "conscientious objector" originated with those who refused to serve in the military "because of moral or religious beliefs," according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary.

But Bill's legislation -- the third antigay proposal from Bill this session, according to Towleroad -- goes further than simply ensuring those with "sincerely held religious beliefs" have a right to refuse service to same-sex couples or LGBT people more broadly.

Unlike similar bills introduced in other states, where so-called religious freedom bills avoid explicit mention of LGBT people or same-sex marriage, Bill's legislation defines a "conscientious objector" as someone who believes "marriage is or should be recognized as only the union of one man and one woman; ... sexual relations should be exclusively reserved to a marriage of only one man and one woman; or ... gender or gender identity is or should be determined by the predominant chromosomal sex."

This definition lays bare HB 3602's intent to legalize discrimination against LGBT people under the guise of respecting a "sincerely held religious belief." In its entirety, the bill makes no reference to the right of same-sex couples to marry (as affirmed by more than 60 state and federal courts in the last two years), nor of LGBT people to be free from discrimination or harassment, as affirmed by the Obama administration.

The legislation does define what constitutes "harassment," but only in the context of retaliatory behavior that is prohibited toward those who exercise a conscientious objection. According to HB 3602, prohibited harassment includes being fired, suspended, or demoted from a job, facing fines, "negative evaluations or references," or any "unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive."

Incredibly, listed among those prohibited responses to a "conscientious objector" is the denial of a license, a business's refusal to serve a conscientious objector, or "discrimination of any kind." The legislation does not address the fact that it simultaneously enshrines the "right" of so-called conscientious objectors to deny marriage licenses or services to LGBT people, let alone effectively legalizes broader, religious-based discrimination in a state that already lacks employment, housing, and basic nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Texans.

If two-thirds of each chamber in the state legislature approve the HB 3602, it would take effect immediately after that vote. Otherwise, if the bill is passed and signed into law, it takes effect September 1.

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