After the San Antonio City Council voted to ban the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A from the city’s airport because of its history of anti-LGTBQ statements and actions, many prominent Texas Republicans were in up in arms, saying it violated the First Amendment.
This week, about three months after that effort, the state’s Republican-controlled House passed a measure to try to prevent further actions. The “Save Chick-fil-A” bill explicitly forbids the government from taking “any adverse action,” against any person, contractor or business for its membership in or affiliation with a religious organization.
The bill met vociferous opposition from Democrats, including the legislature’s LGBTQ members who made several attempts to block it, according to the Texas Tribune, calling it a bill of hatred that was being disguised by its stated purpose of religious liberty. Some have expressed concerns that it is written so broadly that it could effectively require certain governmental entities to work with virulently anti-gay, but ostensibly religious groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church.
But the bill passed the House by a near party line vote of 79 to 62 after about two hours of debate on Monday. If the Senate agrees to some changes it made, it will head to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The bill has drawn accusations from Democrats of being anti-LGBT — another national debate unfolding at the nexus of gay rights and religious liberty that will probably end up in the courts.
“It’s been cloaked in religious freedom, but the genesis, the nexus of this bill, is in hatred,” state Rep. Celia Israel, a Democrat from Austin, said according to the Texas Tribune.
State Rep. Matt Krause, the Republican who sponsored the measure, pointed to the changes he made to the bill as concessions made to some of its opponents.
“Look at the language in this bill,” Krause said, according to the Tribune. “There is nothing discriminatory in the language. . . . There is nothing discriminatory in the intent.”
Members of the newly formed LGBT caucus spoke out against the bill.
State Rep. Jessica González, a Democrat from Dallas, tried but failed to add language to the bill that would have protected LGBTQ people from discrimination, according to the Tribune. Other members warned their Republican colleagues about the political consequences of supporting a bill, pointing to signs that younger voters are more tolerant about sexual orientation.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican known for his advocacy of conservative religious issues, had launched an investigation after the San Antonio City Council’s March vote to see whether it had violated any laws, calling the treatment of the chain “discriminatory.”
Other prominent Republicans in the state such as Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, made similar claims at the time.
Chick-fil-A, which has a deeply religious mission, has long been one of the most prominent companies to draw the ire of LGBTQ groups.
The issue burst into the fore in 2012, after its then president and current chief executive Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage in an interview with a radio station, saying that “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
The Chick-fil-A Foundation has also donated to organizations that are seen by some as anti-LGBTQ or oppose rights such as same-sex marriage.
But the company has said that it did not support these organizations with the intention of “suppressing a group of people.”
The bill stands in notable contrast to another passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Abbott in 2017. That legislation had an opposite thrust — it required government contractors to sign a pledge saying that they would not boycott Israel. But a federal judge recently blocked the law, saying it violated the First Amendment of a woman who had refused to sign it.