UPDATE (4/16/15): The Maine bill has been withdrawn by its sponsor.
Remember Indiana’s heinous anti-LGBT “religious freedom” law — the one that got the entire state mocked and lost it a bunch of businesses? Maine is considering a law that’s nearly identical, but there are two key differences that make it worth watching.
First off, even though Maine’s bill is supported by the entire Senate’s Republican leadership, the state House has a democratic majority that almost ensures the bill’s death one way or another. In fact, the same bill got defeated by a partisan vote during Maine’s last legislative session.
Second off, unlike Indiana, Maine has comprehensive laws already in place to protect LGBT and HIV-positive people from discrimination in realms of education, employment, credit, housing, and public accommodation. Cities in Indiana offer limited protections for LGBT people, but both “religious freedom” bills basically seek to undermine those legal protections, even though their supporters claim that they’re really just meant to protect religious liberties.
So it looks like the law is largely red meat for conservative voters deliberately intended to end up in court to challenge the legality of non-discrimination protections. But Mario Moretto of the Bangor Daily News explains the giant holes in both Indiana and Maine’s prospective laws:
The definition of “substantially burden” contained in the bill is broad, including any law that “directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion.” It also defines as burdensome any law that “compels an action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.”
That’s because it’s those laws that “compel” a bridal shop run by a conservative religious business owner to serve a lesbian couple — even if her religion frowns upon homosexuality. They also “compel” a teacher to report an instance of anti-transgender bullying, even if his religion would have him look the other way. And they “compel” municipal clerks to give marriage certificates to all couples, regardless of their religious views on who may or may not marry.
And therein lies the problem behind all these laws in the first place. Both Tim Cook, the openly gay CEO of Apple, and the World Bank agree that LGBT discrimination is bad for business. Heck, even in red state Texas, over 100 businesses with the state’s business association banded together to oppose such “religious freedom” legislation. Any state that passes anti-LGBT legislation in the face of organized business opposition risks doing serious economic damage that’ll hurt its LGBT, religious and non-discriminatory folks en masse.