Jayne: Senators Rivers, Benton on wrong side of bigotry bill

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

The solution is painfully obvious: If you don't wish to serve gays or blacks or Muslims or hermaphrodites or druids … then don't open a business that caters to the public.

This would seem to be self-evident, like the political maxim that says, "Don't do stupid stuff" (OK, I borrowed that one). Yet some politicians can't help but get tripped up by their own rhetoric.

Take Arizona, for example. The Legislature in that state recently passed a bill that would have prevented businesses from being sued for refusing service because of sincerely held religious beliefs. You might have heard about it; it generated a bit of a firestorm before Gov. Jan Brewer decided to veto the bill.

Now, I'm all in favor of sincerely held religious beliefs. But I'm also against state-sponsored bigotry, which would have been the result of the Arizona law. The proposal would have given license for businesses to refuse service in the name of religion. Specifically, in the minds of those who opposed the bill, it would have allowed businesses that service weddings to reject clients solely because they are gay.

Supporting such a bill, if you ask me, falls under the category of doing stupid stuff, the kind we like to think could never happen in Washington. Au contraire. Because Senate Bill 5927 — originally introduced in the state Legislature in April and re-introduced in January — arrived under the header of "Concerning the right to engage in commerce free from discrimination," which I suppose is one way to defend bigotry.

The interesting part is that the bill's 10 co-sponsors included two local Republicans — Ann Rivers and Don Benton. Rivers, who is engaging, smart, and thoughtful, took the time during the busy legislative session to respond to an inquiry. Benton, who is, um, er, Don Benton, did not.

"I believe in protecting everyone's freedoms and I believe in standing for those who have an objection to participating in a ceremony they, personally, do not believe in," Rivers wrote in an email. "No one should have to suffer because their religious beliefs clash with civil law in matters of business."

Rivers added that the bill is similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. That law was ruled unconstitutional as it applies to states, but remains intact at the federal level.

Senate Bill 5927 has languished in committee and isn't going anywhere. But that didn't stop legislators from also coming up with the "First Freedom Preservation Act," which, according to Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times, is nearly identical to this year's Arizona bill. The First Freedom Preservation Act has yet to be formally filed in the Legislature.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, told Westneat, "This stuff that's going on with these religious bills — these aren't little steps back. They're trying to leap back. To another time."

Hypocrisy in action

Therein lies the problem. Senate Bill 5927 seeks to put into state law a "right to deny services" to certain people if so moved by your faith. It reads, "Nothing in this section may burden a person or religious organization's freedom of religion," which sounds as though an employer could fire somebody for being gay.

The hypocrisy of such bills is that they institutionalize selective enforcement. Some florists or bakers or photographers might not wish to serve a gay wedding, but that rationale doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Do such businesses serve weddings between people who have been divorced? What about between fornicators or idolaters or the unrighteous?

Those people violate the teachings of the Bible, yet I'm guessing that businesses have no problem serving them. It's only when we started talking about gay marriage that the ugly monster of self-righteous bigotry reared its head.

Legislators like Rivers and Benton should know better than to support such discrimination. And as for business owners that are offended by a gay wedding, well, it might be time for a new line of work.