On the heels of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's veto of a bill designed to allow business owners to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) customers, California Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R - Kern County) has introduced new legislation to permit similar civil rights violations in our state.
The vetoed Arizona bill, SB 1062, allowed for anti-gay discrimination by businesses under the guise of "protecting" the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
According to New York Times reporter Fernanda Santos, SB 1062 "was inspired by episodes in other states in which florists, photographers and bakers were sued for refusing to cater to same-sex couples" because the business owners claimed that serving gay customers violated their religious beliefs.
However, the Arizona bill was written in broad language that would have legalized discrimination against any protected minority group.
For example, the legislation would have allowed landlords to refuse to rent to unmarried or mixed-race couples, or barbers to refuse to shave Jews and Muslims--as long as the business owners claimed to be acting out of religious belief.
Assemblywoman Grove's bill, AB 2237, is written in similar but even broader terms than those of the failed Arizona legislation.
AB 2237 is a proposal to amend California's Unruh Civil Rights Act to create an exemption "to protect the free exercise of religion."
The Unruh Civil Rights Act, enacted in 1959, prohibits discrimination by any public or private business establishment on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, genetic information, medical condition, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex (including gender identity and gender expression), and sexual orientation.
Grove's bill would essentially nullify Unruh by carving out an exception permitting businesses to deny service to any group the owners find objectionable, as long as those owners purport to be following their religious beliefs.
AB 2237 is expected to be heard in committee on March 25.
However, there is zero chance that this legislation will pass either the California Assembly or the state Senate--both of which are controlled by Democrats--let alone be signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.
Given these political realities, not to mention the laughably broad language of the bill, it is doubtful that Grove expects AB 2237 to ever become law.
What is more likely is that Assemblywoman Grove is jumping on the anti-gay rights bandwagon to pander to her core constituents in the reliably Republican bastion that is the 34th State Assembly district, where Grove is running for a third term this year.
Then again, the Assemblywoman beat her 2012 Democratic opponent by almost 40 percentage points, so why would she need to fire up her base with craven legislation and fiery Facebook status updates about having the "uncommon courage" to "stand up for...God's Word, which is the only truth"?
Whatever Grove's reasons for grandstanding about her alleged civil right to violate the civil rights of LGBT Californians, it is fortunate that our state has the uncommon courage to protect the rights of all of its citizens.