Beshear not tipping hand on ‘religious freedom’ bill signing or veto


by Joe Arnold

Posted on March 8, 2013 at 6:40 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 8 at 7:41 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- Under pressure from gay rights groups to veto a controversial religious freedom bill, Governor Steve Beshear said Friday he had not yet decided what he will do.

"I haven't really had a chance to review it in detail yet," Beshear told reporters at the capitol.  "I think they just passed it late last night.  And so, once we'll get it we'll review it and make some determination."

Human rights and backers of fairness ordinances in four Kentucky communities say House Bill 279, approved by the Senate Thursday night, threatens the non-discrimination protections.

Just weeks ago, gay rights supporters rallied for all of Kentucky to adopt the protections enacted in Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Vicco.
On Friday, they warned the religious freedom bill moves the state in the opposite direction.  It would allow Kentuckians to ignore state regulations or laws that violate their “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

"If someone had a sincerely held religious belief that they don't recognize same gender relationships or don't feel that LGBT people should be in the workforce with them necessarily working alongside them, they could make a decision not to hire them on that basis, attribute that to their sincerely held religious belief," explained Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign, "and a fairness ordinance would normally uphold an adjudication against that as being against the fairness ordinance, but this law could certainly be used to try to subvert that."

"Religious freedom and civil rights do sometimes butt heads," said Kent Ostrander of the Family Foundation of Kentucky which says House Bill 279 is a necessary safeguard after the U.S. and Kentucky Supreme Courts changed their interpretations of religious freedom.

Ostrander was asked whether the bill would allow a property owner to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation.

"I believe it's possible that - particularly on a personal level - where someone is renting a room out in their house... an elderly couple who perhaps has grandkids over, they may not want to rent the room out to an unmarried couple, heterosexual or a homosexual couple," Ostrander said.  "And I would think that they would have an argument in court."

Ostrander doubted whether such an argument would hold up in the case of a large apartment complex.

"You should be able to rent to anybody you want to," said Richard Smith of Frankfort.  "You shouldn't have to be forced to if you don't believe in same sex marriage or whatever."

"Everyone should be allowed to worship as they want," countered Chris Smith, no relation, of Frankfort.  "But when it comes to public life, you don't have the right to enforce your beliefs on someone else."

The governor has a decision to make.  He can sign the bill, do nothing and allow it to become law or veto it.

"I think that the governor probably has a responsibility to listen to that constituency that has very serious concerns about this legislation and its consequences for civil rights protections in the commonwealth," Hartman said.

The bill passed by overwhelming veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly, 82-7 in the House and 29-6 in the Senate.