Texas is one step closer to enacting a new law that would allow lawyers and social workers, as well as any other licensed professional, to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.
Under Senate Bill 17, introduced by Republican State Sen. Charles Perry, holders of any occupational license could cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” as a reason for discriminating against vulnerable minorities. (The bill, which LGBTQ+ activist have called a “license to discriminate,” doesn’t apply to police officers or doctors.)
[Charles] Perry said the bill provides a defense for licensed professionals who find themselves before credentialing boards based on conduct or speech motivated by their “sincerely held religious beliefs” — a pre-emptive protection for religious employees at a time when, he claimed, religion is under attack.
But LGBTQ advocates and Democrats have criticized the bill as an attempt to give cover to those who would deny critical services to members of the LGBTQ community. Last week, leaders from major businesses like Amazon, Facebook and Google, as well as tourism officials from some of the state’s biggest cities, came out in force against the bill. Discriminating against LGBTQ communities is bad for business, they said.
“Senate Bill 17 will ensure that anyone can practice their profession in Texas without being forced to compromise their religious faith,” Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said last week.
The LGBTQ+ rights group Equality Texas even says this bill is the “number one threat” to that marginalized community in this legislative session.
“[Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick has doubled down on his attack on the LGBTQ community, moving out of bathrooms and into every single licensed profession in Texas,” said Samantha Smoot, the organization’s interim executive director. “SB 17 would create a religious litmus test, and open the doors to discrimination and to real harm to LGBTQ Texans. Dan Patrick has launched a whole new war against LGBTQ people.”
“What if somebody said, ‘I am not going to provide a service because you are a gay couple?’” asked [Sen. Kel] Seliger, an Amarillo Republican. “If somebody said, ‘You’re Muslim, I’m not going to provide this service’?… Doesn’t this bill essentially provide a defense of that discrimination or discriminatory behavior?”
Yes, it does. It’s bigotry in the name of religion. There will undoubtedly be lawsuits if this bill passes, but the broader point here is that Republicans are using faith as an excuse to get away with treating some citizens as second class. If any other group treated them the way they hope to treat LGBTQ+ people, they would be screaming “persecution” from the rooftops. But it always seems to be okay when they’re in the driver’s seat.
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