State Sen. Donna Campbell has proposed legislation authorizing a referendum to amend the Texas Constitution in a way that opponents say would allow Texas businesses to fire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) employees and refuse service to LGBT customers if the business owner objects to the employee or customer’s lifestyle because of religious beliefs.
An existing Texas law—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—already provides strong protections for religious freedom, but Campbell’s proposal seeks to enshrine in the constitution the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.”
Similar proposals have gained legal ground in other states, including Kentucky and Mississippi.
Common examples of the actions the proposed amendment would allow involve small businesses refusing to provide their services to same-sex couples or events, including catering weddings or printing gay pride T-shirts.
Campbell dismissed criticisms of her proposal. “That some have purposely misrepresented this bill as changing Texas law to allow discrimination is greatly disappointing and wholly inaccurate,” Campbell said in a statement. “Freedom of conscience is one of our most sacred rights going back to the founding of our nation and this resolution is designed to promote diversity of thought and expression where others wish to silence, intimidate and hinder it.”
Note: Several Texas cities have ordinances protecting LGBT rights, and it is not clear how those laws would interact with the proposed constitutional amendment if it is ratified.
Discriminating against any group is a legal gamble. Employers that wish to do so should confer with an attorney before adopting such a policy.