State Bills Threaten To Undermine LGBTQ Healthcare, Student Life, And Family Rights

  Image by shironosov/Getty Images

Image by shironosov/Getty Images

State legislatures are back in session, and that means we can expect a flood of dangerous “religious freedom” bills that seek to sanction discrimination against our neighbors. We’ve been reviewing the types of bills that we expect to see in state legislatures this year, including state First Amendment Defense Acts and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Although state legislatures have not had much luck in passing sweeping bills like RFRAs or FADAs, the record is mixed on more targeted “religious freedom” bills that could undermine LGBTQ rights in healthcare, student life, and families.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It guarantees us the freedom to believe—or not—as we see fit. It does not, however, permit anyone to use religion to discriminate. These bills violate this core principle.

In 2016, Tennessee introduced two bills aimed at undermining LGBTQ patients’ access to healthcare and one of them was signed into law. Now, licensed counselors and therapists to use their own religious and moral beliefs to justify denying medical services to patients. The sweeping bill will cause harm beyond LGBTQ patients: Healthcare professionals could serve a client because the client is a single mother, an LGBT person, part of an interracial couple, a woman who is leaving her abusive husband, or a person of a different faith than the therapist. The other bill would have allowed counseling students at public, taxpayer-funded universities to have the same right to deny healthcare.

These counseling bills also directly contradict the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics, which encourages counselors to be aware of their own values, attitudes, and beliefs, but prohibits them from imposing them on their clients. The ACA guidelines also explain that counselors may not “condone or engage in discrimination based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.” Bills like this, however, would allow counseling students and licensed counselors and therapists to use religion to discriminate against their own patients.    

In 2016, state lawmakers also considered legislation targeted at LGBTQ university students and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed SB 175 into law. The bills would bar colleges and universities from enforcing nondiscrimination policies that apply to student religious clubs. This means that religious clubs could discriminate against LGBTQ students, excluding them from membership or leadership positions. And this year, legislators have already introduced bills that would have similar consequences for LGBTQ students.

The last set of anti-LGBTQ bills focus on adoption— state lawmakers introduced eight of them in 2016. These bills would permit child placement agencies to discriminate against children and their families, including prospective foster and adoptive parents, with taxpayer dollars. The legislation would allow an agency to refuse to work with families, youth in care, or prospective parents based on the agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs— even where those actions operate contrary to the best interests of the children. In the past few years, a handful of states has enacted these discriminatory bills and state legislators are already introducing new bills for 2017.

We’re ready to fight these harmful bills and with your help, we can win. Using our 2017 State Legislation Tracker, we will monitor these and other dangerous “religious freedom” bills, and provide up-to-date information about new bills, the status of legislation, analysis, letters to legislators, blog posts, action alerts, and more. Check back every Tuesday and Friday for tracker updates. Looking for real-time information? You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and share our information far and wide.