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Should you be able to 'pick and choose' customers?

Byron Republican Rep. Duane Quam is planning to push a bill next session that would enable wedding photographers, florists and bakers to refuse service to a same-sex couple without facing criminal or civil penalties.

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Byron Republican Rep. Duane Quam is planning to push a bill next session that would enable wedding photographers, florists and bakers to refuse service to a same-sex couple without facing criminal or civil penalties.

Quam has drafted a 56-word religious freedom bill aimed at making sure no individual or business can be forced to violate their religious beliefs.

"The principle should be government shouldn't be making you do stuff you don't want to do," he said.

The legislation is broad, stating simply that "no person, organization or entity shall incur a civil or criminal penalty for refusing to provide a service, or refusing to allow the use of property or facilities for any activity that is prohibited by or is against the person's, organization's or entity's sincerely held religious beliefs." Quam said the legislation would protect people of all religious faiths from violating their beliefs. All too often, he said, individuals are seeking out religious individuals who own businesses and forcing them to go against their beliefs.

"Why should a person, a group choose to make someone do something they don't want to do? You've got probably dozens of options but you don't choose ones that the people don't have a problem with it. Instead you choose to rub somebody's face in something for a point," Quam said.


Critics of the legislation say it would open the door to legalizing discrimination in Minnesota.

"If you start saying in places of public accommodation, for example, they can pick and choose who they want to serve, then we're back to discrimination against black people, discrimination against Muslims, discrimination against all kinds of people, and I don't think that's the kind of state that we want to live in," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester.

The issue of religious freedom has been in the national spotlight since Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was jailed last month after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country. The DFL-led Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton approved legislation in 2013 legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Nationwide, religious freedom legislation has been introduced in 17 states this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . Currently, 21 states have this type of law on the books. Minnesota is not one of them.

The conservative Minnesota Family Council is hoping to change that. The organization's spokeswoman Autumn Leva said passing religious freedom legislation will be one of the group's top priorities heading into the 2016 legislative session. She said the state and federal governments have failed to address the concerns of Christian business owners who do not want to be forced to provide service to same-sex couples because it violates their religious beliefs.

"We have to find a way to deal with this because, in our view, the government shouldn't be forcing someone to violate their faith in order to do business or in order to engage in public activity. That's not what this country was founded on. That's not what the First Amendment is about," Leva said.

Leva said this is becoming a problem in Minnesota. She cited the recent case of Rice Creek Hunting and Recreating Inc. in Brainerd, which declined to rent the property to a same-sex couple for their wedding. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigated and determined there was probable cause the business violated the state's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The hunting preserve reached a settlement agreement with the same-sex couple and agreed to pay the costs associated with the couple's wedding.

Leva said she could not comment on Quam's bill because she has not had time to study the possible ramifications. Her organization did help draft the "Freedom of Conscious" bill that is being sponsored by Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. The bill is much more narrow than Quam's proposal, focusing only on allowing certain small businesses to refuse to provide marriage-related services to same-sex couples.


OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Monica Meyer said she has serious concerns with Quam's bill.

"It's really broad. What it states is if you don't believe in a law, you don't have to follow it," she said.

Meyer said she believes the state already has strong religious protections in place. She added that businesses that serve the public need to treat everyone fairly instead of being allowed to pick and choose their customers.

"When businesses are open to the public, they really should be open to everyone on the same terms," Meyer said.

Quam rejects the idea that his bill could lead to discrimination. He said same-sex couples planning a wedding have plenty of businesses to choose from. As such, he said there is no harm in providing legal protections for business owners to refuse that business if it violates their religious beliefs.

"There are plenty of bakeries to bake cakes, photographers to take pictures, florists to make arrangements," he said.

Meanwhile, Liebling said she is puzzled as to why Quam is pushing for this legislation. She said she has not heard any complaints from Rochester businesses since same-sex marriage was legalized two year ago. She also noted that religious institutions cannot be forced to sanctify same-sex marriages.

If this law were to pass, Liebling said it would take the state down a "very uncomfortable and even dangerous road," adding, "Are (business owners) going to question everybody to make sure — are you using birth control? Are you living in sin? I mean where does this stop once we allow people when they are simply providing a service to pick and choose who their customers are going to be?"

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