Bill by Kelsey and Dunn would protect ‘religious freedom’ of those opposing same-sex unions

News release from Senate Republican Caucus
(NASHVILLE, TN), February 07, 2014 – The Religious Freedom Act would protect the religious freedom of individuals regarding marriage ceremonies that violate their personal religious beliefs. It does not change current law. In 2006, over 80% of Tennesseans voted to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. In October, a federal lawsuit was filed challenging that provision of the Tennessee Constitution.

“If the lawsuit were successful, this bill would put in place religious freedom exceptions that already exist in eleven other states, including New York, Vermont, and Hawaii,” explained Senator Kelsey.

The Religious Freedom Act will protect Tennesseans from being dragged into court for their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding marriage. In New Mexico, a photographer was recently sued for declining to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, even though such ceremonies were not recognized by New Mexico law at the time. This bill would protect Tennesseans from similar lawsuits and from harassment by the government.

As clarified in a proposed amendment, the revised bill would ensure that whichever side prevails on the issue of the definition of marriage, the heavy hand of government will not be brought down in retaliation against the other side’s religious freedoms. For example, a florist who opposed the Catholic Church’s stance on marriage could not be sued for refusing to provide flowers at a ceremony held in a Catholic church.

All states that have enacted same sex marriage have included a religious freedom exception. Currently, 11 other states and Washington, D.C. have expressly protected individuals from private lawsuits. The list includes: Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Note: The bill, HB2467, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville. The Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender people, had quick and critical commentary on its website from Executive Director Chris Sanders after quoting provisions o the bill:

Does that mean refuse medical services to an individual in a same-sex relationship? Does that mean refuse to sell food to a same-sex couple? How far are they willing to go?  We don’t know, but whatever it means, it means discrimination!