Opinion

Opinion: Bailey bill a step back for society

Last November, Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) was elected to Washington Senate District 10, representing all of Island and parts of Snohomish and Skagit counties.

She carried a hair under 53 percent of the vote while ousting long-time Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen. In that same election, Referendum 74 regarding same-sex marriage was approved in Island County by a hair under 53 percent of the vote.

It was also approved in Snohomish County by a hair under 53 percent and by just over 50 percent in Skagit County as it was passing statewide.

Fast forward to early March. Two men in Richland start planning their now-legal wedding and ask the friendly florist they’ve patronized for nine years to do the flower arrangements.

She refuses politely, citing her Christian opposition to same-sex marriage. All hell breaks loose, so to speak, on social media.

Fast forward to April 10. State Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson files a consumer protection lawsuit against the florist, citing state’s Consumer Protection Act, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation, as well as gender, race, religion or disability.

Fast forward to April 25. Sen. Bailey and 10 other Republican state senators (but only Bailey from the Puget Sound area) propose a law that would give businesses the right to deny services or goods to any customer if they felt doing so was contrary to their “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or matters of conscience.”

The proponents quickly note that the bill would not change the law regarding discrimination based on gender, race, religion or disability. It is targeted only at gays and lesbians.

Bailey and her other co-sponsors are terribly wrong-headed with this backward-looking, falsely labeled effort to protect “religious freedom.”

Not long ago, “religious freedom” inspired racial segregation and Jim Crow laws across the South. Scriptural references to a “woman’s place” were long used to deny women equal opportunities in business — and politics. People with disabilities, sometimes called “demons” in Scripture, were often excluded from almost everything.

Even more insidious in this new proposal would be the permission it grants to discriminate based on “philosophical beliefs and matters of conscience.”

Does this mean a business may refuse service to someone who supported the “wrong” side of a political issue?

Would it be legal to discriminate against a hunter if a business owner’s conscience abhors killing deers and ducks?

Might a business owner refuse service to a women because he’s philosophically opposed to females in pants?

This can of worms needs to be quickly closed and thrown in the trash heap, where it belongs. Our state has grown ever more tolerant in recent times, and rightly so.

The days of discrimination based on dogma are gone.

Religious freedom gives us the right to worship as we please and to associate with whomever we wish.

But that freedom should stop at the cash register. If a business owner offers his or her service to the public, it should be available to all — no exceptions, regardless of the owner’s personal feelings about a customer’s sexual orientation.

To go backward now, after the hard-fought gains of recent years for women, minorities and gay people, would be tragic and just plain wrong.

Shame on Sen. Barbara Bailey for co-sponsoring this narrow-minded throw-back to the bad old days.

 

Harry Anderson is a Coupeville resident an occasional contributor to The Whidbey Examiner.

 

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