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LGBTQ community fears religious freedom bill may lead to discrimination

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Posted at 8:03 PM, Apr 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-03 21:03:18-04

WACO, TX  — LGBTQ advocates are calling a bill protecting religious freedom a "license to discriminate."

If Senate Bill 17 becomes a law, it will protect licensed professionals such as doctors, lawyers and counselors from disciplinary action from state boards when they act on their "sincerely held religious beliefs" in their place of business.

Reverend Charley Garrison has been openly gay the majority of his life.

"I've sort of developed a bit of a shield to the hatred that comes with it," Garrison said.

He and his husband have been together for nearly 20 years, marrying a couple of years ago when gay marriage became legal.

He knows not everyone accepts their lifestyle and sometimes that makes him worry about their safety.

"If there's an affectionate touch on the shoulder in the grocery line, what will happen? Will somebody follow us to the car? That hasn't happened, but I think it's a real fear," Garrison said.

They are fears many members of the LGBTQ community live with on a day-to-day basis.

Garrison said Senate Bill 17 will lead to more discrimination. Under the bill, licensed professionals could legally lean on their religious beliefs when making decisions for their business.

As a man of God himself, Garrison believes in treating others as he wants to be treated and loving one another equally.

"Using religious freedom as a weapon to hurt someone is just wrong," Garrison said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is in favor of the bill. In a statement issued Wednesday, he said:

“Senate Bill 17 will ensure that no Texan will ever have to choose between their job and their faith. Preserving religious liberty has, and will always be, one of my top priorities, and I congratulate Sen. Perry on passing this important legislation. Senate Bill 17 will protect Texans of all religious faiths.”

Texas Values Action is a nonprofit lobbying and advocacy organization that directly advocates for faith, family, and freedom in the political arena.

Nicole Hudgens is a senior policy analyst for Texas Values Action. In a statement released Tuesday, she said:

“No Texas professional should fear the government taking away their livelihood because of their faith. We applaud Senator Charles Perry for his work to protect religious freedom for Texas license holders.”

Christie Gilliam works for Bentwood Realty in Waco. She's been a realtor for four years, working with hundreds of buyers and sellers.

She said if this bill does become law, she can't imagine putting it to use.

"The religion or sexual orientation or any of that doesn't matter to me because what we're trying to do is find a good fit for a person, for a family for a unit of people to call home," Gilliam said. "If you're a licensed professional, act like a licensed professional. Handle your business. Four personal beliefs don't need to dictate that."

Garrison said he's never been discriminated against by a licensed professional before.

"I've been open about having a husband and I haven't experienced even an eye-blink," Garrison said. "But it's still something that makes you wonder, if the laws change, would attitudes change with it?"

Garrison appreciates people like Gilliam, who see him as an equal. He wants that progress to continue, rather than have a bill slow it down.

"It would make us cautious," Garrison said. "It's a new fear to live with, on top of all the other ones."

The bill is now on its way to the House of Representatives.

The Human Rights Campaign has also voiced concerns over the bill.

Rebecca Marques is the state director for the HRC. In a statement released Tuesday, she said:

“Today’s vote on SB 17 marks a dark moment for Texas: the passage of one of the most broadly discriminatory bills under consideration across the country. This bill would allow state-sanctioned discrimination against many Texans, but would particularly impact the LGBTQ community. Before the session began, Texas’ elected officials promised to focus on key issues important to all Texans and not to revisit the fights of the previous session. Instead, it’s legislative deja vu, as Dan Patrick is pushing a discriminatory anti-LGBTQ agenda yet again. We implore the House of Representatives to not take up this harmful bill.”

Legiscan.com reports more than 9,000 bills have been introduced this session. The HRC said at least 19 of them threaten LGBTQ Texans.

To read the Senate Bill 17, click here.