Religious freedom vs. gay rights. What’s happening in 10 states

Josh Deinert, a graphic designer at Fast Signs in Phoenix, shows off a sign opposing Arizona bill SB 1062. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the legislation that would have given legal protection to people who asserted their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. While Arizona’s law drew most of the attention, lawmakers across the country have been wrestling with the issue. (Matt York / Associated Press)

By Paresh Dave

Though Arizona captured the spotlight, other states have been wrestling with whether religion should be a justifiable reason for people and businesses to refuse service to others.

Against the backdrop of rising support for same-sex marriage, proposed laws have been called anti-gay by gay rights advocates who say the bills would issue businesses and government officials a “license to discriminate.” Conservative groups say the measures are necessary to ensure people don’t feel their religious liberty is violated.

In recent weeks, governors or lawmakers in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Ohio, South Dakota and Utah have vetoed, voted down or withdrawn measures that would have bolstered protections for people who cite religion in their business decisions.

Ten more states are considering such legislation:


Relating to religious organizations


Marriage-religious protections


Protecting religious freedom regarding marriage


Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act


Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act


Protect Religious Freedom Initiative


Religion and religious organizations

West Virginia

West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act


Bill number: SB 377

Bill title: Preservation of Religious Freedom Act

What it would do: Require the government to show a compelling interest and lack of alternatives when it tries to enforce a law that substantially burdens someone’s religious beliefs.

Status: Died March 3 when the Senate declined to vote on the measure by a legislative deadline. Bill sponsor Sen. Josh McKoon said on the Senate floor in late February that the bill’s image was marred by “bullying, misinformation and downright untruths.”


Bill number: HB 2493

Bill title: Relating to religious organizations 

What it would do: Amend state law to make religious organizations that deny services to someone immune from not only government penalties, but also lawsuits.

Status: Introduced in January. Awaiting committee hearing. A bill to ensure religious freedom for more than just faith-based organizations has already been shot down this year.


Bill number: HB 4263

Bill title: Marriage-religious protections 

What it would do: With same-sex marriage to be recognized statewide starting in June, HB 4263 would let schools and religious organizations refuse permission for their facilities to be used in ceremonies contrary to their religious beliefs.

Status: In a House committee, and must pass the House by mid-April.


Bill number: HB 2453

Bill name: Protecting religious freedom regarding marriage

What it would do: This narrowly written bill prevents gays and lesbians from filing lawsuits against businesses and government officials that refuse to serve them or their celebrations. Those who refuse also can’t face government fines. Last year Kansas passed a religious freedom bill, and some say HB 2453 is redundant.

Status: Passed the House. Senate leaders have said they will not vote on it.


Bill number: SB 2681

Bill name: Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act

What it would do: Require the state to show a compelling interest and a lack of alternatives when enforcing a law that substantially burdens someone’s religious freedom.

Status: Approved by the Senate and the House committee; awaiting action by the governor.


Bill number: SB 916

What it would do: Revise Missouri’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act that ensures that people can use religion as a defense in discrimination lawsuits, regardless of whether the government is a party to the lawsuit. It addresses an issue that had come up recently before the New Mexico Supreme Court and spurred the failed Arizona legislation.

The protection would not apply to certain lawsuits, such as employment and housing discrimination cases. Gay rights advocates say it gives businesses cover to refuse service to gays and lesbians. But like Arizona, state law in Missouri already allows for discrimination based on sexual discrimination. 

Status: Introduced this week.

Bill number: HB 1430

What it would do: Allow healthcare workers to opt out of performing objectionable medical procedures on religious, moral or ethical grounds. The practitioners must still inform patients about their condition and options. A prominently displayed notice must warn about procedures an office might not perform. The bill failed in Missouri before.

Status: Passed House.


Bill number: SB 1846

Bill title: Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act

What it would do: Amend the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to broaden the definition of religion and ensure that religion can be used as a defense in legal proceedings regardless of whether the state is a party to the suit.

Status: Introduced in early February, but failed to pass the Senate by March 13.


Initiative number: 2014-52

Initiative name: Protect Religious Freedom Initiative

What it would do: Petitioners are awaiting the state’s go-ahead to start collecting the signatures needed to ask voters in November to carve out a religious-reasons exemption to the state’s anti-discrimination law, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A separate group is collecting signatures to place on the same ballot a measure that would overturn the state’s 2004 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. As of mid-February, the group had collected 38,000 of the 116,000 signatures needed by summer.

Status: Awaiting certified ballot title and language from attorney general’s office, which is due March 7. After that, petitioners will need to collect more than 87,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.


Bill numbers: SB 2566 and HB 2467

Bill title: Religion and religious organizations 

What it would do: Narrowly written, the identical bills prevent same-sex couples from filing lawsuits against religious organizations, people and government officials that refuse to serve them or their celebrations. Such groups and people would also not be subject to government fines.

Status: Introduced in early February, awaiting hearings in subcommittees.

West Virginia

Bill number: HB 4134

Bill name: West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act

What it would do: Require the government to show compelling interest and no other options if it chooses to enforce a law that substantially burden one’s religious beliefs.

Status: The bill failed to advance out of committee.