Kentucky bill could protect discrimination as "religious freedom"

The bill advanced despite concerns that it would make it easier to discriminate against gays and lesbians

Published March 11, 2013 9:45PM (EDT)

Gov. Steve Beshear, D-Ky.       (Wikipedia/Gage Skidmore)
Gov. Steve Beshear, D-Ky. (Wikipedia/Gage Skidmore)

The governor of Kentucky is considering a bill that would expand protections for religious freedom, but that in practice could give cover for discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill, which would give protections to people who refuse to follow state laws based on "sincerely held" religious beliefs, was sent to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear after the state Senate approved it last Thursday. "Once we get it, we will review it and make some determination," Beshear said.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Opponents contend that the bill could be used to circumvent fairness ordinances approved by Lexington and three other Kentucky cities that ban discrimination against gay, lesbian and other populations not covered by federal civil rights laws.

Among those opponents is the Kentucky Equality Federation, which wrote a letter to Beshear last week pushing him to veto it. "House Bill 279 represents a clear and present danger to the gay and lesbian community and other minority groups around the commonwealth," the letter said. "House Bill 279 does nothing more than give people permission to discriminate based on their religious beliefs, thereby taking it beyond 'freedom of religion' to 'forced religion,' because they have imposed their religious beliefs on others, with legal authority to do so."

In a statement, the ACLU of Kentucky also said that though the expressed purpose of the bill is "laudable," the current draft "would undermine existing civil rights protections" in the state. "If the Senate chooses to keep the bill's current language, and not amend it to include specific protections for civil rights laws, a religious individual could claim an exemption from any law or policy that prohibits discrimination-leaving racial minorities, women, LGBT people and others without adequate protections," the statement says.

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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Discrimination Gay Rights Kentucky Religious Freedom Republicans Steve Beshear