State Sen. Paul Gazelka on Thursday unveiled a "Freedom of Conscience" bill that would allow some businesses to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs, saying it's intended to compromise, not discriminate.
Gazelka, R-Nisswa, whose proposal comes in the waning weeks of the session, said he knows it won't pass this year. He called its specific language "a surgical approach" by pertaining only to weddings. The language states that no clergy member or business must provide goods or services "if that action would cause the individual or business to violate a sincerely held belief regarding whether marriage is only the union of one man and one woman."
Gazelka, who was instrumental in efforts behind a failed 2012 constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota, and who voted against legalizing same-sex marriage the following year, said his bill is not intended to discriminate against gays and lesbians, or to end same-sex marriage. He called the measure a conversation starter.
Gazelka referenced a 2014 case where Rice Creek Lodge had to pay a settlement after initially refusing to rent a lodge for a wedding service to a gay couple.
"It's not right to deny anyone services simply because of who they are, but it's also not right to force someone to celebrate a gay wedding if they think it's wrong," he said.
"The only way for our dividing culture to move forward is for both sides to live as they please. Both sides have to leave a little room for the other side to disagree."
Gazelka said he has reached out to members of the gay community, including LGBT advocacy organization OutFront Minnesota, but they declined to lend their support.
OutFront Executive Director Monica Meyer said that while the organization appreciates Gazelka's reaching out, the majority of Minnesotans support same-sex marriage.
"Commercial business owners don't have to support the decisions of their customers, but we just know that our country works best when nobody is discriminated against, and we're not actually providing these legal avenues for discrimination," Meyer said.
The bill comes in the wake of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which drew backlash from across the country, including Minnesota. Indiana's governor since amended the bill.
Gazelka said his bill is unique from other controversial bills because it is wedding-focused, where he said he sees the most conflict. Although state law currently provides exemptions for religious entities, businesses are not exempt.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he's not overly concerned about the bill, but called it an "unfortunate distraction" as the session wraps up.
"When you offer services to the public, you offer them to everyone," Dibble said.
"I don't know why we would give some businesses the ability to thumb their nose at the law and treat people differently."
Gazelka co-authored the bill with Republican Sens. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake and Dan Hall of Burnsville. No DFLers co-sponsored the bill.
Staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.