Kentucky Senate passes bill allowing businesses to deny service to gays

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, at her side, speaks after being released from the Carter County Detention Center, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Grayson, Ky. Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, was released Tuesday after five days behind bars.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, at her side, speaks after being released from the Carter County Detention Center, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Grayson, Ky. Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, was released Tuesday after five days behind bars. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A divided Kentucky Senate passed a measure Tuesday seeking to expand legal protections for businesses that invoke religious beliefs in wanting to deny services to gay, lesbian or transgender customers.

The bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 22-16 vote. It arose in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Opponents said the legislation would promote bigotry, threaten anti-discrimination ordinances in several cities and potentially drive away convention business from Kentucky.

Supporters countered that the measure would protect a basic right to freedom of conscience.

The bill seeks to protect businesses from civil damages and legal fees for refusing to participate in same-sex marriage celebrations due to conscientious objections, said Sen. Albert Robinson, the bill’s lead sponsor.

“There is an agenda at work here that seeks to force people with sincerely held religious convictions to either abandon those beliefs, violate them or face state action that could close their businesses and destroy them financially,” said Robinson, R-London.

Kentucky became ground zero in the backlash against last year’s Supreme Court ruling when a federal judge found Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt of court for refusing to obey his order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was jailed for five days and her refusal to obey the order prompted a national uproar.

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