Bill would allow businesses to turn away gay couples

Bill would allow businesses to turn away gay couples

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"To us, it doesn't matter if it's a gay or lesbian wedding or a straight wedding or any particular religion," Atkins said. "To us, it doesn't matter if it's a gay or lesbian wedding or a straight wedding or any particular religion," Atkins said.
Faizer says the law would have no legal effect and is likely nothing more than "a piece of politics." Faizer says the law would have no legal effect and is likely nothing more than "a piece of politics."
The bill's new sponsors are Sen. Mike Bell from Riceville and Rep. Bill Dunn from Knoxville. The bill's new sponsors are Sen. Mike Bell from Riceville and Rep. Bill Dunn from Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - East Tennessee lawmakers are taking up sponsorship of a bill allowing companies to reject business from gay couples.

Controversy surrounding the bill has already gone viral. The original sponsor told a Memphis TV station that pushback from his constituents prompted him to drop it.

The bill's new sponsors are Sen. Mike Bell from Riceville and Rep. Bill Dunn from Knoxville. They say it protects business owners' freedom of religion, but opponents say it discriminates against gay couples.

Representative Dunn says his bill is designed to prevent lawsuits against wedding vendors, like he's seen in other states, who don't want gay couples as clients.

"I don't think a business or a person should have legal harassment come after them just because they chose because of their conscious and religious beliefs that they don't want to participate in someone else's wedding," Dunn said.

Dunn also pointed out that people don't realize businesses can already chose which customers they want to serve.

Kathleen Atkins and her husband own a photography business and have been capturing memories in Knoxville for 6 years.

"To us, it doesn't matter if it's a gay or lesbian wedding or a straight wedding or any particular religion," Atkins said.

Atkins believes it's important to respect other wedding vendors who wish not to serve gay couples, saying each wedding photographer is different and they each have their own beliefs. She added other photographers have referred lesbian and gay couples to her and that the system works well for everyone.

Atkins offers this advice to all couples, "whether they're gay or straight or whatever religion, they need to seek out professionals who are happy to be part of their day."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee calls the bill "dangerous" and says it would provide a license for discrimination against gay couples. The Tennessee Equality Project says they are extremely worried about the consequences, should this become law.

Akram Faizer, a law professor at LMU, points out that because a person's sexual orientation is not currently protected from discrimination under federal law the same way race and religion are, businesses in Tennessee can already legally decline to serve gay couples.

Faizer says the law would have no legal effect and is likely nothing more than "a piece of politics."

The bill is scheduled for discussion in House and Senate committees on Tuesday.

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