By a vote of 19-12, the Texas state Senate has approved legislation that would allow licensed professionals to refuse to serve anyone – including LGBTQ people – based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The vote went down Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, voted for the bill, and one Republican, Sen. Kel Seliger, voted against.
According to The Texas Tribune, the bill has become a top legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).
The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Charles Perry (R), says Senate Bill 17 would allow professionals who are licensed by the state – like lawyers, social workers, barbers, pharmacists, physicians or plumbers – to cite their beliefs as a valid defense should they be brought up on charges by their respective credentialing boards due to professional behavior or speech.
The legislation does include a requirement that medical professionals would have to treat patients who are at risk of death or serious injury. And licensed law enforcement officers would not be covered by the law.
Opponents of the bill say “sincerely held religious beliefs” is a vague concept that could ultimately excuse any unprofessional behavior.
Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group, called SB 17 this legislative session’s “number one threat to the LGBTQ community.”
Samantha Smoot, Equality Texas’ executive director, said in a statement, “Dan Patrick has doubled down on his attack on the LGBTQ community, moving out of bathrooms and into every single licensed profession in Texas.”
“SB 17 would create a religious litmus test, and open the doors to discrimination and to real harm to LGBTQ Texans. Dan Patrick has launched a whole new war against LGBTQ people,” she added.
Perry pushed back against the ‘discrimination’ label during the debate saying, “It’s not licensing discrimination at any level.”
Sen. Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, attempted to put that to a test with an amendment to the bill that would specifically prohibit professionals from refusing service based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Perry allowed the amendment to go to a vote which failed 12–19, which pretty much sums up the motivations behind the bill.
So much for “not licensing discrimination at any level.”
Sen. Borris Miles, a Democrat from Houston, announced in no uncertain terms, “You know that saying, ‘You can put lipstick on a pig? Sen. Perry, this is a discrimination bill.”
Major businesses like Google, Facebook and Amazon have all announced their opposition to the bill.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement today after the vote.
“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,” said Rebecca Marques, HRC Texas state director. “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,” she continued. “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.”
The legislation will head to the state House after one more vote in the Senate which is primarily a procedural step.
The HRC notes that there are “at least” 19 bills in this legislative session that threaten LGBTQ Texans.