So much for staying out of the discriminatory culture wars this legislative session.
The Texas Senate passed a bill that many deem to be a “license to discriminate” against the LGBTQ community.
Senate Bill 17 by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) would allow a “religious exemption” for licensed occupations, like barbers and health care professionals in the state. If an occupational license holder were to refuse service due to a “sincerely held religious belief,” then the agency overseeing the occupation would be barred from making any disciplinary action.
Mike Webb, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said in a statement to the Texas Signal that the bill could potentially prevent members of the LGBTQ community from getting the health services they need.
“As someone living with HIV, it is critical that we always have the opportunity to get the services that we need – and S.B. 17 takes that away,” Webb said. “If I need to go to the pharmacist to pick up, quite frankly, medicine that saves my life, I should not have to worry whether the pharmacist will refuse to provide me medicine that will keep me alive just because they disagree with me being queer.”
S.B. 17 received strong support from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and formidable opposition from the business community, including Facebook, Apple, and Google. Discriminatory legislation is bad for Texas business.
The bill passed by a 19-12 margin, with only one Democrat, Eddie Lucio, Jr., voting for it. Lucio was also the only Democratic senator who voted for the “bathroom bill” in 2017.
“The moral fiber of this nation will continue to deteriorate, and at one point in our history, it will be gone,” Lucio said on Wednesday. “I hope I am not alive to see that happen.”
Webb remains optimistic, seeing the bill’s passing as an opportunity to aggressively organize, coordinate with other communities that would be targets of this bill, and push for candidates who will advocate for equality.
The next stop for the legislation is the Texas House, where it’s expected to face more resistance.