(AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear will have to decide Friday whether to veto a bill that supporters say would give stronger legal standing in Kentucky to people who claim their religious rights are being violated.
The second-term Democrat is being pressured by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and other groups to veto the measure that they contend could allow people to discriminate against gays, lesbians and others in the name of religion.
Meanwhile, church groups have been urging Beshear to sign the bill. If Beshear doesn't veto the measure, Kentucky would join 16 other states that provide similar protections for people of faith, though legal experts say similar laws have been largely ineffective elsewhere.
State Rep. Bob Damon, D-Nicholasville, warned Friday that he would push for a legislative override if Beshear vetoes the legislation, which easily passed both the House and the Senate.
"That's not something I want to do," Damon said Friday. "But, on the other hand, this is a very important issue."
Damron sponsored the bill after the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a ruling last year upholding a state law requiring the Amish to display bright orange safety triangles on their drab buggies so motorists could better see them. Several Amish men in rural western Kentucky felt so strongly that displaying the triangles violated their religious belief against calling attention to themselves that they went to jail rather than comply with the law.
The legislation protects "sincerely held religious beliefs" from infringement unless there is "a compelling governmental interest."
The Fairness Coalition, a gay rights group, said the bill "could make discrimination legal" in Kentucky.
Wayne State University law professor Christopher Lund reviewed the effects of religious freedom laws, finding they've largely been unused and that people who did claim religious infringement in those states lost more often than they won.
In New Mexico, one of the states with a religious freedom law, a Christian wedding photographer lost two court rulings after she refused to take pictures of the commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple.
Damron acknowledged that passing the bill isn't likely to bring landmark change in Kentucky.
"But it does reinforce that somebody's basic right of religious expression is paramount and the government has to have a comopelling interest to override that," he said.