Washington State Anti Gay Bill: Legalizing Discrimination One State at a Time

Any time I mention to people in Seattle that I moved here from the Bahamas, I'm greeted with one of two reactions: The first is a brief pause before hearing something along the lines of, "Wow, that's a change" while the second is a stunned, silent incredulous look that screams, "what the hell is wrong with you to have made that trade?" Most of the reasons are personal, but among them is that (unlike the Bahamas) Washington State is a bastion of genuine liberalism where most people don't care about things like, "what gender are you attracted to" or "what's your religion." After having lived most of my life in conservative areas where any answer but, "the opposite gender" and "Christian" usually get you shocked and outraged looks, it's been nice to live somewhere that hasn't been the case and where people don't take a step back from me when I tell them I'm an atheist. Unfortunately, I've come to learn that even here the liberal attitude isn't universal, as a group of state senators have filed a bill that would allow for legal discrimination against LGBT people (If you successfully guess which party is behind this, take a shot of your liquor of choice).

Led by state senator Sharon Brown, a group of 12 of Washington's 23 Republican senators have proposed Senate Bill 5927, of which the bottom line is, "the right of an individual or entity to deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual's or entity owner's sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience." It goes on to state, "this subsection does not apply to the denial of services to individuals recognized as a protected class under federal law." If you successfully guess just what group of individuals isn't classified by federal law as a protected class, take two shots.

This is happening in response to a pair of lawsuits, one from the Washington State Attorney General's Office and one from the ACLU, against a florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding. The florist, Barronelle Stutzman, has cited her Christian beliefs and "relationship with Jesus Christ" as the reason behind her refusal. She did this despite a 2006 law that makes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal as well as the recently passed Referendum 74, which legalized same sex marriage in the state. "She's a very nice lady and doesn't have a discriminatory bone in her body, but she doesn't want to be forced to participate in an event that she doesn't believe in" is how the lawyer has Stutzman, also saying, "she is one of the few people left today willing to stand by her convictions rather than compromise her beliefs." Take three shots for the lawyer un-ironically calling Stutzman non-discriminatory.

Enough background though, back to the bill. The wording alone is enough to make one cringe, especially if you're a non-white who was alive 50 years ago for the civil rights era. Stutzman's lawyer is arguing that forcing her to sell flowers to the gay couple violates her constitutional rights of freedom of speech, association and religious exercise, an virtual echo of the arguments used to protest racial integration, interracial marriage and racial equality in general. The Republicans behind the bill are themselves parroting the religious exercise line, saying the measure seeks to protect people or religious organizations from legal persecution. Josh Friedes of Equal Rights Washington surmised the entire thing perfectly during an interview with The Associated Press: "it is discrimination, pure and simple." Take four shots if none of this paragraph has surprised you.

Just looking at the bill and the bend of the state government there's little doubt it will die in it's infancy and settle the issue once and for all that discrimination based on sexual orientation isn't going to be tolerated in Washington state. And who knows, with any luck the case might just help an attitude of acceptance to spread not just to the more conservative corners of Washington but also to neighboring states.

If you've been playing along with my drinking game and still have a functioning liver, have one more shot to celebrate.