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Robert Houk

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Turn away gays' bill looks to be dead in Tennessee - for now

March 3rd, 2014 9:00 am by Robert Houk

Turn away gays' bill looks to be dead in Tennessee - for now

In a column a few years ago, I noted that political pander bears are known to emerge from hibernation in election years to take on causes designed to gin up support among their base. Instead of tackling legitimate issues, pander bears occupy their time debating issues that involve one of the four Gs of American politics: God, Guns, Gays and Gynecology.
In Arizona, some pander bears in that state’s legislature made a bill to allow businesses to discriminate against gays their cause celebre this year. This particular legislation included two of the big Gs (God and Gays), because the discrimination would be codified under the umbrella of religious freedom.
Supporters of the measure said: “I have a right to my religious convictions and I think homosexuality is an abomination.”
Opponents countered: “Government-sanctioned discrimination based on any religion is the true abomination.”
Arizona legislators approved the bill and sent it to that state’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, who surprised many by vetoing it. Brewer is no RINO, and she is certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to the culture wars. She has been a strident defender of that state’s controversial immigration laws and has been known to literally get all up in President Obama’s face.
So why did she veto the bill?
“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said. “I have not heard one example where business owners’ religious liberty has been violated.”
What she did hear was executives from major corporations telling her that such a law would be bad for business in Arizona.

Several versions of “turn away gays” bills have been introduced in at least seven states this year, including Kansas, Maine and Tennessee. It doesn’t appear, however, that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will be faced with the same decision that Brewer was forced to make (although it would be interesting to see how Haslam would come down on the issue).
Earlier this month, one of the sponsors of the “Religious Freedom Act” pulled his legislation from consideration. Using language similar to Brewer’s, Tennessee state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said his bill to allow businesses that cater to wedding ceremonies to turn away same-sex clients if they felt the service would clash with their “religious beliefs” was not needed after all.
“The text of the Religious Freedom Act never allowed a restaurant or hospital to refuse service to anyone,” Bell said in a news release. “I would never introduce legislation that attempts to limit the civil rights of any Tennessean, whether straight or gay. The bill was designed to protect a pastor, rabbi or singer from being sued and forced to participate in a same-sex ceremony against their will.”
For the record, no one is now being forced to participate in a gay marriage in Tennessee because same-sex unions are not valid in this state. Eighty-one percent of the voters in this state approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages in Tennessee.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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