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Oklahoma Anti-Gay Bill Hits Snag With Dem. Representative’s Ingenious Amendment

by Rafi Schwartz

March 17, 2015
image via (cc) flickr user fibonacciblue

“They don’t have a right to be served in every single store. People need to have the ability to refuse service if its violates their religious convictions"

That’s Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Slick, speaking with the New York Times about SB440—his “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Reformation Act of 2015.” Slick’s proposed bill would allow business owners the right to refuse service based on a potential customer’s sexual orientation. A similar measure—HB1371, “The Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act”—with a specific focus on businesses in the wedding industry, is simultaneously working its way through the Oklahoma House of Representatives. It’s in that deliberative body, however, that conservative efforts to legalize anti-gay discrimination on the basis of religious freedom have run into an ingenious snag, thanks to State Representative Emily Virgin

In an amendment to HB1371, introduced on March 10, Virgin proposes: 

Any person not wanting to participate in any of the activities set forth in subsection A of this section based on sexual orientation, gender identity or race of either party to the marriage shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites. The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.”

Put plainly: If a business owner in the wedding industry wants to reject potential clients on the grounds of religious freedom, they’ll have publically post, in no uncertain terms, not only intent to refuse service, but to whom they specifically intend to refuse service.

In effect, making them talk the talk in order to walk the walk. 

Whether intentional or not, Representative Virgin’s proposed ammendment is strikingly similar to an idea floated by conservative North Carolina senator Thom Tillis, when he was still a member of that state’s house of representatives. As Talking Points Memo reported in February, Tillis, speaking to the Bipartisan Policy Center, described a 2010 interaction in which: 

“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,’” the senator said.

Tillis said his interlocutor was in disbelief, and asked whether he thought businesses should be allowed to “opt out” of requiring employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

The senator said he’d be fine with it, so long as businesses made this clear in “advertising” and “employment literature.”

“I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,” Tillis said.

“The market will take care of that,” he added, to laughter from the audience.

It’s that very power of the market which has some supporters of Virgin’s amendment particularly excited. Writing in Dallasvoice.com, a Texas-based LGBT-focused publication, David Taffet explains:

...a straight couple that wouldn’t have been turned away would be notified that they’re doing business with bigots and might want to find an alternate vendor as well.

Frankly, I’d rather take my chances with a business that doesn’t make employees wash their hands than shop at one which refuses to serve customers based on who they love. 

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Oklahoma Anti-Gay Bill Hits Snag With Dem. Representative’s Ingenious Amendment