Duane Quam wants to talk religious freedom. Or is it discrimination?

Critics call the Rochester-area Republican's forthcoming bill a gateway to discrimination.

Critics call the Rochester-area Republican's forthcoming bill a gateway to discrimination.

At the end of the 2015 legislative session, state Rep. Duane Quam (R-Byron) started working on his version of a so-called religious freedom bill — similar to the one Indiana passed amid boycott threats this spring.

“What I wanted it to do is not have civil or criminal penalties for a person or group that was following their strongly-held religious beliefs,” Quam says. “In other words, government couldn’t make them do something.”

While initially inspired by the Little Sisters of the Poor fighting the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, the bill would seem to permit Kim Davis-types to do their marriage license-denying thing or allow venue owners to refuse gay weddings with impunity. Quam admits the bill, which was first reported by the Rochester Post-Bulletin, is broad by design and says there should probably be some exemptions. His hope is that it would force an uncomfortable conversation and allow various interests to “add their brick” instead of bickering over something already written.

“I tried to have it short and general so that we could at least have a consensus that we don’t want government overly intrusive. But we do need to have these protections,” Quam says.

While Quam and others frame these types of laws as protecting religious liberties, opponents see it as legalized discrimination.

OutFront Minnesota executive director Monica Meyer, for one, isn’t crazy about Quam’s bill or a similar, narrower one sponsored by Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. The LGBTQ advocate says Minnesota already has strong religious exemption policies and that businesses should treat potential customers fairly and evenly.

“You open a business to the public to serve all people,” Meyer says. “It doesn’t mean that you are supporting every customer that comes in the door, [that] you know their full life story, and that you have to be a part of every part of their life.”

While Meyer appreciates Quam’s talk-it-out mentality and says she’d happily chat with him, don’t expect Quam’s or Gazelka’s bills to win OutFront’s rainbow seal of approval.

“Either of the bills would really start to carve out discrimination and say that it’s OK, say that it’s fine to discriminate against some people sometimes,” she says.