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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 11, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 06
Iowa bill to allow anti-Gay discrimination stalls
Section One
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Iowa bill to allow anti-Gay discrimination stalls

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A bill that would have allowed discrimination against people involved in same-sex marriages was tabled by an Iowa House subcommittee on February 9, preventing it from moving forward.

House Study Bill 50, called the 'Religious Conscience Protection Act,' would have allowed a person, business, or organization such as a charity or fraternal group to deny services to people involved in marriages that violate the provider's religious convictions.

The bill explicitly exempts providers who cite religious scruples from civil claims or lawsuits.

Iowa Rep. Richard Anderson, a Republican from Clarinda, told the 75 people gathered for the February 9 hearing that the bill was being tabled.

'This bill is important to some Iowans and I have some issues, as do other people, with this bill,' Anderson said. 'There is no intent to move it forward.'

Anderson later told reporters there may be an attempt to draft a narrower bill to give Iowans some legal means of refusing to employ or do business with LGBT people.

'We don't know,' Anderson said. 'There are issues that people have and we just have to continue to work on it.'

While most of the debate on the measure centered on self-identified Christians denying services to same-sex couples, the bill also would have legalized a wide range of other discriminatory acts.

A Christian married to a Jew, a white person married to someone of another race, or an older woman married to a man half her age might also raise religious objections and be legally targeted for discrimination.

Nan Hunter, a law professor at Georgetown University, said that such broad exemptions are unprecedented in anti-discrimination law and predicted such a law would open the door to abuses.

'What is at issue here is the enforcement of state anti-discrimination laws that prohibit denying jobs or housing or services to people based on sexual orientation,' Hunter said.

'What it would change is how much discrimination we as a society will allow against married couples who are Gay. It's going to be discrimination based on sexual orientation.'

At least three civil rights groups issued statements on February 7 opposing the bill.

'The ACLU recognizes this bill for what it is: an effort to legitimize discrimination under the guise of religious liberty,' said Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

Alicia Claypool of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission warned legislators the bill would 'undermine' legal protections for all minorities.

'It's like driving a Mack Truck through the Civil Rights law,' Claypool said.

Two rabbis from Des Moines also testified against the bill.

Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B'nai Jeshurun suggested if the bill became law, Iowa businesses could put up signs that say, 'Gays Not Allowed.'

'Jews certainly have a long history of being persecuted as a minority people and having laws legislated against us because of who we are, not necessarily what we believe,' Kaufman said. 'I don't think that's the direction Iowa wants to go. I don't think anybody wants to go in that direction.'

Rabbi Steven Edelman-Blank of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines suggested the bill would open up a 'Pandora's Box' of discrimination.

'The Biblical verse says that a man shall not lie with a man, like a woman,' Edelman-Blank said. 'But I don't see any legislation in the Bible that says, 'One shall not serve someone a hamburger' & or 'Someone should not give someone housing because of that,' or 'Someone should be fired from their job.'

Republicans won control of the Iowa House of Representatives in the 2010 election, and they have introduced legislation to amend Iowa's constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

That measure is being blocked by a slim two-vote Democratic majority in the Iowa Senate.

Same-sex marriages are legal in Iowa under an Iowa Supreme Court decision handed down in April 2009. The proposed amendment would nullify the court's decision.

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