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At a press conference on Thursday morning, Sen. Paul Gazelka, a Republican from Nisswa, unveiled a Freedom of Conscience bill aimed at allowing businesses and individuals to discriminate against same-sex couples.

According to the Pioneer Press, Gazelka is promoting the bill, in part, because a business in his district was fined after it refused service to a same-sex couple.

“I was one of the legislators who opposed gay marriage but even then I said that gays and lesbians should be able to live as they choose,” Gazelka said. “I’m simply asking that Christians and people of faith be allowed to live as they choose without… threat of punishment.”

The bill has not yet been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature but is expected to drop in the next few days. It likely won’t receive any action with only days left in the legislative session, but because it was introduced in the first year of the biennium, it will be in play in 2016. According to Star Tribune reporter Abby Simons, Republican Senators Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, and Dan Hall of Burnsville are co-authors.

The bill states:
A bill for an act relating to human rights; providing an exemption from human rights provisions to certain persons if the provision would violate sincerely held religious beliefs; proposing coding for a new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 363A.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Subd 1. (a) No religious association, religious corporation, religious society, religious or denominational educational institution, or other entity supervised or controlled by or in connection with those entities, or individual acting in the scope of employment for the religious entity, or clergy or minister, shall be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage or treat any marriage as valid for any purpose, if that action would cause the entity or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman.
(b) Paragraph (a) applies to employees, agents, and volunteers acting within the capacity of their employment or responsibilities with a religious association, religious corporation, religious society, religious or denominational educational institution, or other entity supervised or controlled by or in connection with those entities.
(c) Paragraph (a) does not permit a religiously affiliated organization engaged in the provision of healthcare, or its employees, to refuse to treat a marriage recognized as valid in this state for the purpose of a spouse’s right to visitation or to make a health care decision on behalf of a spouse.
Subd. 2. Private protections (a) No individual, sole proprietorship, or small business shall be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges that assist or promote the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, or that directly facilitate the development or perpetuation of any marriage, such as counseling or similar services, if that action would cause the individual or business to violate a sincerely held belief regarding whether marriage is only the union of one man and one woman.
(b) For purposes of this subdivision, “small business” means a legal entity other than a natural person;
1. that provides services that are primarily performed by an owner of the business; or
2. that has 20 or fewer employees.
(c) Paragraph (a) does not apply if a party to the marriage is unable to obtain similar goods or services, or rental housing elsewhere, without substantial hardship. “Substantial hardship” means that:
1. there is no individual or business within 30 miles of the location of the solemnization or celebration of the marriage able to provide the desired goods or services and both parties would incur a substantial increase in the cost by procuring similar goods or services from an individual or business located more than 30 miles from that location; or
2. there is no other individual or business able to provide the desired goods or services within the time frame needed for the solemnization or celebration of the marriage.
Subd. 3 Government entities. No governmental employee or official shall be required to provide services that assist or promote the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage if that action would cause the employee or official to violate a sincerely held belief that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman, unless another employee or official is not promptly available and willing to provide the requested governmental service without inconvenience or delay.
Subd. 4. immunity. No refusal to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges protected by this section shall result in a civil or criminal cause of action or complaint, including an action or proceeding under this chapter, or any action by the state or a political subdivision to penalize or withhold benefits or privileges, including tax exemptions or governmental contracts, grants, or licenses, from any protected person or organization.
Subd. 5. Liberal construction. the accommodations in this section further the compelling governmental interest of protecting rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion and must be construed to provide the utmost protection for those liberties.

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Andy Birkey
Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is Outright Bully Bigotry and completely against Human Civil Rights. The GOPOBB (Grand Old Party of BULLY BIGOTS) doesn’t seem to understand Civil Rights and Separation of Church and State. Most of them need a refresher course in CIVICS ! ! All this bill can do is create a lot of legal lawsuits.

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