Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman might have skipped this summer’s National Association of Secretaries of State meeting in Nashville anyway, because it occurs in close proximity to the state’s primary election. But when Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed an egregious bill last Wednesday that allows mental health counselors in that state to refuse treatment to patients based on a therapist’s personal beliefs, that sealed the decision.
Despite being an executive board member of the national organization, Wyman issued a statement saying she won’t be attending the meetings and neither will key leaders in her office. Before that, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a ban on most state-funded travel to North Carolina and Mississippi after those states passed laws that allow discrimination against gay and transgendered people.
The movement to exempt people from tasks that run afoul of their religious beliefs is growing to the point of absurdity. We don’t see it in Washington, because of strong anti-discrimination laws.
For instance, Barronelle Stutzman, a Richland florist, refused to sell wedding flowers to a gay couple, citing her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued her, citing the Unfair Practices-Consumer Protection Act. In essence, the law says if you supply a business or service to straight couples, you must supply it to all couples.
A Benton County judge ruled against Stutzman and assessed a fine; the case is now with the state Supreme Court. But this took place in Washington, where gay marriage is legal and where state statutes have been amended so that people cannot be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. The Washington Law Against Discrimination protects gender expression.
However, discrimination in housing, hiring, child support rights, benefits, business succession rights, sick leave, hospital visitations, autopsies, organ donations, inheritance, and on and on, is still legal in many other states.
Instead of ending discrimination, some states are passing pre-emptive laws that would allow people to refuse service based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. Lawmakers are shielding their citizens from any future laws that would call for equal treatment.
Businesses used to be able to refuse service based on race. Mixed-race marriage used to be a point of discrimination based on religious beliefs. But LGBT rights are new, so some states are going through the same tired arguments about protecting religious freedom via discrimination.
These barriers will ultimately fall. Boycotts and economic sanctions will cripple discriminatory states. Business interests will be motivated to act. Federal courts will begin striking down state statutes. Younger generations will move into positions of power and affirm LGBT rights.
We’re fortunate in Washington to be ahead of the curve. The predictions of dire consequences in expanding equality to the LGBT community have not come to pass.
Political leaders who express their sincerely held beliefs that discrimination is wrong are to be commended.