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Governor Dayton recently signed into law a bill recognizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. During debate, opponents of the bill introduced an amendment (which was subsequently defeated) to the bill that would have allowed any individual to refuse to conduct business with someone in a same-sex relationship if that relationship clashed with their sincerely-held religious beliefs. In support of this amendment, State Senator Warren Limmer was quoted as saying: “The question for this body is do we offer protection for all or only a few.” Later he added: “I’m sorry we don’t have room in our statutebooks for people of faith anymore.”

You may be guessing that the direction that this blog post is heading is to explain the nuances of the Establishment Clause. Or that I may be about to analogize this argument to those people who have sincerely-held religious beliefs which might make them uncomfortable doing business with Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, etc. You would be mistaken, despite the fact these would be very persuasive arguments against Senator Limmer’s position.

Rather, I want to simply point out that refusing to do business with someone based on their sexual orientation has been illegal in Minnesota for years. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), which I have referred to repeatedly in this blog because of the protections it provides employees in Minnesota, also includes a provision that specifically prohibits business discrimination. Minn. Stat. § 363A.17 states in relevant part:

“It is an unfair discriminatory practice for a person engaged in a trade or business or in the provision of a service… to intentionally refuse to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s race, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, or disability, unless the alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose.”
This, of course, makes Senator Limmer’s argument factually erroneous. And the dearth of complaints by people whose religious beliefs oppose homosexuality during the years the MHRA has legally required them to do business with gays and lesbians doesn’t help his argument.
As a side note, Senator Limmer’s statement that “we don’t have room in our statebooks for people of faith anymore” is false as well. Numerous laws exist in Minnesota to protect people’s religious freedoms and prohibit discrimination based on religion. The MHRA itself provides a myriad of protections for people based on their faith. (See hereherehere, and here.) Moreover, the last time I checked (which was a few minutes ago), Article I, Section 16 of the Minnesota Constitution still provides for religious freedom in Minnesota.
In sum, I just thought this was a nice way to provide some information on a portion of the MHRA that is rarely discussed or considered.