State senator proposes religious belief exemption to civil rights law

by: Essex Porter Updated:

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

There's a new proposal in Olympia to create a religious exemption to the state's anti-discrimination law.

Introduced b  state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, it would protect businesses that don't want to serve same-sex couples planning to get married, but critics say it opens the door to bigotry.

It comes after the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland refused to provide wedding flowers to a gay couple who had been loyal customer.

Barronelle Stutzman told KIRO-7 last month, "I grabbed his hand and I said I can't do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ."

Brown reacted after Stutzman was sued by the state  attorney general's office. "This bill is about religious freedom and maintaining religious freedom for people," she says.

But the state senator who led the fight to make same-sex marriage legal is critical."It's an attempt to go in and open decades worth of civil rights legislation," says Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle. "If we decide one group gets discriminated against, then why not reach into it and decide that other groups get discriminated against?"

Brown rejects any accusation of bigotry. "I have biracial children and so I get very upset when people accuse me of trying to thwart certain civil liberties in this country because I, of all people, will not stand for that."

Nearly half the Republicans in the state Senate are co-sponsors of the measure, and it may get a hearing if there's a special session of the legislature.