The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs advanced a bill on Monday that would allow State-licensed professionals to refuse to serve LGBTQ people by citing their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Senate Bill 17, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top-30 priorities, would permit State license-holders––including doctors, lawyers, and counselors––to refuse to serve clients without any repercussions from their licensing boards.
“Dan Patrick’s attack on the LGBTQ community has snowballed––from bathrooms two years ago to this year’s ‘license to discriminate’ for every licensed profession in Texas. But the new mean-spirited attack, like the old one, will be rejected by mainstream Texans,” Equality Texas said in a statement.
Nearly 60 people registered to testify at Monday’s committee hearing, and the vast majority of speakers were opposed to SB 17. At least 43 LGBTQ advocates from across Texas, including religious leaders, lawyers, and healthcare professionals, urged the Senate to vote against the bill.
A dozen clergy members, including rabbi Nancy Kasten from Dallas, spoke in opposition to SB 17, stating that the bill distorts the notion of religious freedom in order to legitimize discriminatory behavior.
“As a religious minority, I am well aware of the importance of protecting religious freedom,” Kasten said. “But the ability to live freely according to one’s religious beliefs, practices, and observances should never be confused with the permission to use faith as a weapon against those who do not share the same views or beliefs.”
Other opponents of the bill feared that it would make it even harder for LGBTQ folks— especially those living in rural areas—to access healthcare.
“Senate Bill 17 would exacerbate an already existing healthcare access issue for LGBTQ Texans,” said Amy Stone, a professor of sociology at Trinity University.
A disproportionate number of LGBTQ Texans already face challenges in accessing healthcare, according to Stone. The professor participated in a study that surveyed more than 500 LGBTQ Texans about healthcare access. The study found that 1 in 10 participants struggled to access healthcare, with 42 percent of those having trouble finding competent healthcare providers.
The bill’s author, Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), said that medical professionals would be required to provide treatment to prevent death or serious injury no matter the circumstances, and that the bill would not apply to licenced law-enforcement officers.
But SB 17 opponent Ash Hall emphasizes that saving lives involves much more than emergency-room heroics. “That life-saving part is not always so obvious,” Hall countered.
Hall, who identifies as a part of the LGBTQ community, faced depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide as an out Baylor student. Hall went to the school’s counselor to discuss these issues, and the counselor was “clearly uncomfortable” with Hall’s sexual orientation.
“To her credit, she listened to me as best as she could,” Hall said. “She put her religious reservations aside. If she had refused to listen to me, I assure you I would have killed myself. I had no hope, but she was the only person who gave me a goal, even though we were on opposite sides of so many issues.”
Despite a vast majority of testifiers opposing the bill, the Committee on State Affairs had made up its mind. All Republicans present, as well as Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), voted in favor of SB 17, and only Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) voted against the bill.
The Texas House can still vote no on SB 17.
Watch the Senate committee meeting here: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14033