The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple left open a larger question of whether a business can discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community based on the religious principles of the businessperson. Now, Texas lawmakers want to provide licensed professionals in Texas with legal cover in the event that they are accused of discriminating on the basis of the businessperson’s religious beliefs.
Mark Jones is a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. He calls Senate Bill 17, filed by Republican Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, “bathroom bill 2.0” – a reference to last session’s controversial proposal to require transgender people to use bathrooms associated with the sex on their birth certificate. SB 17 would prohibit licensing organizations from suspending the credentials of professionals who choose to deny service to people, based on the professional’s religious beliefs.
“It does open up discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community by allowing professionals, from doctors to lawyers to accountants to real estate agents, to choose who they serve and who they do not serve, and discriminate, especially on religious beliefs,” Jones says.
A number of large companies, including Google, PepsiCo, Apple and Dell, along with local chambers of commerce, have sent a letter to lawmakers objecting to SB 17 and other religious-exemption bills filed this session. The letter says the bills are “discriminatory” and “divisive.” Jones says businesses are concerned that like the bathroom bill, the new measures detract from Texas’ reputation, making it difficult for companies to recruit workers here.
In the 2019 session, lawmakers have focused much less on “red meat” conservative priorities than during the 2017 session, Jones says. But some Republicans continue to work on measures intended to please their core supporters.
“The Republicans in the legislature were very much chastened in 2018 when they lost two Texas Senate seats and 12 Texas House seats, and saw [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick win by less than 5 percent of the vote,” Jones says. “But there’s always pressure from the base to at least get these issues out there a little bit.”
Jones says SB 17 could pass in the Senate, but it won’t pass in the House because House Speaker Dennis Bonnen “won’t let it see the light of day.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.