In perhaps a sign of the legislative floodgates that will open when the special legislative session begins (next week?), a crew of social conservatives in the state senate introduced a bill this afternoon that would amend 2006's gay civil rights bill by allowing a business owner to refuse to provide goods or services if providing those goods or services contradicted the proprieter's religious beliefs—say, like if a Richland florist didn't want to serve a gay couple.
The bill's main sponsor is Sen. Sharon Brown (R-8, Kennewick). Brown's district is the home to a controversy that blew up in March when Barronelle Stutzman, who owns Arlene's Flowers in Richland, refused to do business for a gay couple.
Stutzman is being sued by both the ACLU of Washington and by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferugson, who says the flower shop is violating the state's consumer protection act, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation thanks to the '06 civil rights bill.
I have messages in to both Sen. Brown and state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill), author of the 2006 gay civil rights bill (and the subsequent gay marriage bill). The civil rights bill explicitly protects gays from this kind of discrimination; the marriage bill also withstood an amendment from Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver) which would have allowed businesses like flower shops and photographers to refuse to provide services for gay weddings.
Benton is a co-sponsor on Brown's bill, which cleverly leaves federally protected classes immune from discrimination rather than Washington state's protected classes. Gays and lesbians are not a protected class at the federal level, but they are at the state level.
Sen. Murray tells PubliCola: "What they're really going after is civil rights legislation from decades ago that settled the quesiton of who gets to sit at a lunch counter and who doesn't get to sit at a lunch counter. It's a wake up call to gays and lesbians," Murray adds, "the fight doesn't end. It's like choice. It's always under attack. Gay and lesbians are in the same situation."