Controversial "Turn the Gays Away" Bill Sparks Debate - Eric Alvarez
Updated: Friday, February 14 2014, 11:21 PM CST
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Tenn. - Supporters of Tennessee senate bill 2566 say it's exactly what the state needs, but opponents call it "legalized discrimination."
The bill would allow individuals, organizations and businesses to refuse to serve certain same-sex customers, if doing so goes against their religious beliefs.
The owner of the Batter's Box Bar and Grill, about a mile and a half south of the capitol, says the ambiance in his bar couldn't be more different from the language in the controversial bill.
“Our door is open to everybody,” Chris Austin said. “It would hurt Tennessee. I mean, I know we're in the Bible belt but this is 2014.”
David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee says the bill is meant to protect churches, caterers and other businesses that don't want to be a part of same-sex marriages.
“We've seen in recent months where a baker said ‘I'm happy to make birthday cakes for people that have same-sex attractions, but I don't want to make wedding cakes’ and they get sued and run out of business and this is the kind of thing it would apply to," Fowler said.
Senators Brian Kelsey and Mike Bell originally sponsored the bill.
On Thursday, Kelsey decided not to sponsor the bill after all, following voter backlash.
“I applaud his efforts but it's not enough,” said David Long, gay-rights activist and coordinator of Nashville’s Project Uno.
Long says as long as the bill is on the table, it's a slap in the face to everyone's civil rights.
“Forty years of dealing with civil rights, let's not stop and let all our ancestors that fought for our freedoms of just basic rights be in vain,” Long said.
Fowler says those rights apply to everyone.
"You’re free to do what you want to do but don't make me do what I can't in good conscience do,” Fowler said.
As the debate picks up steam, Austin says, even if the bill did become law, the Batter's Box wouldn't want any part of it.
"Doesn’t matter,” Austin said. “Religion, same-sex marriage, who cares? We serve everybody.
A senate judiciary committee is scheduled to take on this bill on Tuesday.
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