A bill has been introduced in the Tennessee state legislature that would give wedding vendors the right to turn down same-sex couples as customers.
The bill would allow businesses such as venue owners, caterers, cake makers, party planners, photographers and florists to refuse service to gay and lesbian marriages if they go against their "sincerely held religious beliefs," The Tennessean reported.
The measure, which is scheduled for debate in the state Senate this week, was put forward by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, the Republican chairman of that chamber's Judiciary Committee.
"We want to make sure we protect the conscience and religious freedom of businesses," said the bill’s co-sponsor, state Sen. Mike Bell. A companion bill has also been proposed in the House.
A series of court cases are being conducted in states to legalize same-sex marriage, which would in some cases, including Tennessee, strike down state constitutional bans on such ceremonies.
Last week, a federal court judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize
out-of-state same-sex marriages for official purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually decide whether same-sex unions are legal.
The Tennessee legislation is aimed at preventing lawsuits filed against wedding vendors who refuse to work with same-sex couples and could circumvent the court challenges against Tennessee’s state-sex ban.
But the bill has already come under fire from gay rights activists in the Volunteer state, including the Tennessee Equality Project, which says that it discriminates against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
"This just sends the wrong message about Tennessee," said Chris Sanders, the group’s executive director. "Why not hang signs on the doors telling every group you don’t want to serve?"
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