News (USA)

Maine state Senate rejects religious freedom bill

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers have rejected a bill designed to strengthen legal protections for religious freedom in the state.

Maine state capitol in Agusta.
Maine state capitol in Agusta.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 19-16 to reject the bill before sending it to the House for further consideration.

Republican Sen. David Burns of Whiting says his bill would ensure that the state must have a strong justification before it can infringe upon someone’s religious liberty.

Opponents say the bill is unnecessary because religious freedom is already protected under the Maine Constitution and federal and state laws. They say the bill will have significant unintended consequences and roll back years of progress for human rights, and could create a path to unraveling the state’s same-sex marriage law.

Burns dismissed the idea that the bill allows religious people to get away with anything they want and says the opposition fails to understand the bill’s purpose.

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Lawmakers in five other states recently introduced “religious freedom” bills targeting same-sex couples, mostly in response to the rapid advancement of marriage equality.

The bills were defeated or withdrawn this week in South Dakota, Kansas Tennessee, and Idaho, but a bill in Arizona is moving forward and being debated in the state House on Wednesday.

The Maine bill varied from the others as it’s language didn’t not specifically reference sexual orientation, gays and lesbians or same-sex couples.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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