Nevada Republicans are dropping two proposed bills that would have added religious freedom protections to state law that critics have hounded as legalizing discrimination against LGBT people.
Assemblyman Erv Nelson and Sen. Joe Hardy said they would no longer pursue passage of AB277 or SB272 on Friday.
The two lawmakers were sponsoring the bills which contained similar language enacting a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act into Nevada state law.
Similar proposals in Indiana and Arkansas drew substantial criticism over the last two weeks due to concerns that the bill would create exemptions for businesses to legally discriminate against gay and lesbian people.
The act was passed by Congress in 1993 and initially applied to state and local governments until it was overturned by the Supreme Court. Around 20 states have passed similar legislation over the last two dozen years.
Nelson said the recent outcry over a similar law in Indiana and existing religious protective provisions in the Nevada constitution helped solidify his decision to not pursue the bill.
“This bill was not meant to do anything about same sex marriage or sexual preference,” he said.
Although supporters claim the bill echoes the federal law passed in 1993 and similar legislation in nearly two dozen states, the bill contains several key differences including defining a for-profit business as an individual with religious rights and allowing suits to come forward between private parties.
American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Vanessa Spinazola said she was concerned that the bills included different language that other states with religious freedom acts. She said the bill would essentially create a wide exemption for businesses to avoid following Nevada’s tough discriminatory protection laws.
“People who are in a protected class will walk into businesses and they will never know if they’re going to get served there or not,” she said.
“It basically brings us back to segregated lunch counters in the Civil Rights era.”
Boyd Law School professor Leslie Griffin said the recent fights over the religious laws are based less on protecting minority religions and more about the fight over extending gay and lesbian rights.
“The battle against marriage equality is almost lost, this is the next round,” she said.
Hardy said he didn’t intend the bill to legalize discrimination and that furor over the Indiana law meant the state shouldn’t take up the bill this session.
“I don’t want to give a message that we’re trying to discriminate,” Hardy said. “That’s not us, that’s not who we are.”