Kentucky Senate passes controversial 'religious liberty' bill

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Does it protect religious beliefs or allow discrimination?

That's what people are debating when it comes to a bill just passed in Kentucky's Senate.

Senate Bill 180 would allow businesses to refuse services to customers if it violates their religious beliefs. With the legalization of gay marriage, the bill's sponsor says businesses shouldn't be forced to make products condoning it. 

Republican Senator Albert Robinson adds the proposed legislation would also apply to other situations. 

"A Jewish baker, if some of the Neo-Nazis come in there, he'll sell them a cake but he will not be required to put a Neo-Nazi symbol on it," Robinson explained. 

Opponents say the bill puts Fairness laws in several Kentucky cities in jeopardy and everyone from the LGBT community to single moms could legally face discrimination.

"Senate leaders sent the message that Kentucky may not be open for business for everyone, and that's a really harmful message to send to folks," Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman told WDRB News. 

Gov. Matt Bevin says the state already has similar laws to Senate Bill 180. 

"It's just a codification of things and a clarification of things that are already on the books in some measure," Bevin said. "I think it's meant to just simplify and clarify things a little bit." 

"Is it already law? That's what they say it is," Robinson said. "But without some support, they're overriding it." 

A dispute between the Lexington Human Rights Commission and printing company led to the bill. Hands on Originals' owners refused to print shirts for a gay pride parade based on religion. The commission ruled that violated the city's Fairness Ordinance. 

The bill will now go to the House, where Democrats hold the majority. 

Robinson says he thinks it will pass if there's a hearing, but opponents are hopeful that won't happen. 

"I would hope that the Kentucky House does not pick it up and gives it just as much consideration as it deserves, which is none," Hartman said. 

Opponents say the bill could also hurt the economy. 

Indiana passed a similar law last year and Visit Indy reported losing millions of dollars as a result. 

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