Anti-LGBT Lawmakers Unveil Slew of ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills Despite Business Concerns
A conservative member warned of a ‘public fight’ if House leadership tries to kill discriminatory legislation.
Dismissing potential economic backlash, socially conservative state lawmakers unveiled a slate of anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills on Wednesday, including a sweeping measure known as the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA).
FADA, modeled after proposed federal legislation bearing the same name, would allow individuals, businesses and other entities to refuse service to same-sex couples based on the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
State Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, the author of the bill, said he isn’t worried about opposition to FADA from business groups or possible boycotts. Last week, the NFL suggested it won’t hold future Super Bowls in Texas if the Legislature passes anti-LGBT legislation, such as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s anti-transgender bathroom bill.
“I think religious liberties and the protection and preservation of them is of the utmost importance,” said Krause, whose district includes Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, a perennial contender to host major national sporting events. “If the NCAA wants to pull out because we’re pursuing those and validating one of our most dearly held fundamental principles, that’s a decision they’re going to have to make.”
Last year, after Mississippi became the only state to pass such a law, a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional. But Krause told the Observer he’s confident his bill would survive legal challenges because it’s more narrow, stressing that it would also protect those who have religious objections to opposite-sex marriage, even though that isn’t mentioned in the text.
“It goes both ways,” Krause said. “If you believe marriage should be man and man, woman and woman, the government can’t discriminate against you on that grounds either.”
In the 2015 session, lawmakers introduced 23 anti-LGBT bills, but none passed. This year, Krause said proponents of “religious freedom” bills have refined their strategy, and he expects several to “land on the governor’s desk.”
“In the past, the right hand didn’t really know what the left hand was doing,” Krause said. “We actually got together and talked.”
Kathy Miller, president of the pro-LGBT Texas Freedom Network, said now that same-sex marriage is legal, lawmakers are targeting numerous specific groups for “religious freedom” protection, such as university clubs, state-licensed professionals and county clerks.
“It feels to me like the strategy is to pass tiny bits of discrimination in a lot of bills, instead of a lot of discrimination in one bill,” Miller said. “I hope that the House leadership can see through this pitiful attempt to force discrimination into Texas law wherever they can. This stuff needs to stay off the [House] floor.”
House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican, has repeatedly deferred to economic arguments against anti-LGBT legislation, but state Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said the decision about whether to pass the bathroom bill or “religious freedom” measures should be up to the chamber.
“If we sense that these bills are getting killed behind closed doors, and there are deals being made to make these issues go away, you’re going to see a public fight on the floor of the Texas House to bring those issues to light,” said Leach.
Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said he expects groups, including the Texas Association of Business, the state’s chamber of commerce, to oppose anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills in the same way they’ve fought the bathroom bill.
Equality Texas lists 13 anti-LGBT bills on its website, but state Representative Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, said that more “religious freedom” bills are likely to be filed before the March 12 deadline.
Sanford is the author of House Bill 1805, which would allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies with religious objections to decline to place children with same-sex couples. Despite a severe shortage of high-quality foster homes, Sanford said the bill is needed in part because it would preserve the right of religiously affiliated agencies to reject parents from different faiths.
“Would you use the force of government to compel a Muslim agency to place with a Jewish family?” Sanford said. “Why not allow everyone to place according to their religions?”
Krause, Leach and Sanford were among about a dozen all-white, all-male lawmakers who appeared at a Wednesday news conference, which drew a relatively small turnout from the media because it coincided with a hearing on high-profile anti-abortion legislation.
Hours before the news conference, Patrick appeared in Washington, D.C., to defend the bathroom bill on a program hosted by the Family Research Council (FRC), designated an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Patrick said Senate Bill 6, by state Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would be good for business because it would protect the privacy of women.
“I know from our experiences in Texas, when we’re recruiting a company, one of the biggest voices to make the final decision is the CEO’s wife,” Patrick said.