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Tennessee Becomes Latest State To Use “Religious Liberty” As A Justification For LGBT Discrimination

HB 1840 allows mental health professionals to refuse service to LGBT persons based on a “sincerely held religious belief”

Tennessee State Legislature
Tennessee State Legislature

Tennessee state lawmakers Wednesday afternoon passed HB 1840, a bill that would effectively allow mental health professionals to refuse service to anyone based on the “religious liberty” of the counselor, therapist, or other involved professional.

Passing in the House and Senate by huge margins, 68-22 and 27-5, respectively, the bill now heads to GOP Governor Bill Haslam for his signature, which he is expected to sign into law immediately.

The legislation is considered particularly toxic for Tennessee’s LGBT population.  As nearly a quarter of the state’s 6.5 million residents live in rural areas where access to mental health care can be especially limited, therapists refusing service may also in theory be the only care that person in question might be able to realistically seek logistically.

The ACLU of Tennessee has consistently warned that the bill if signed into law would allow counselors to “refuse to see clients for almost unlimited reasons.” Under HB 1840, theoretically a counselor could refuse to see a lesbian simply because of her sexual orientation, or similarly a couple involved in an interracial relationship.

“For people seeking counseling because they are faced with a critical dilemma in their lives and need objective guidance, allowing mental health professionals to discriminate could cause grave damage. Many who need care already face significant barriers, including trauma, marginalization, and a historic distrust of mental health providers. For some—like a woman who wants to escape her abusive spouse or a gay teen being bullied, for example—this bill could affect their very survival.”

The controversial legislation, sponsored by Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, does require therapists to make a referral to a professional willing to take the case should they refuse service, however it ultimately takes the control of care away from the clients, which combined with its predominant rural population, nonetheless unnecessarily sets a dangerous precedent.

Rep John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, led the opposition to the bill, putting forth five amendments that would add exemptions, including minors who are victims of bullying and other conditions.

They were all blocked by the GOP-controlled legislature.

“If we don’t even amend this bill to protect children, what signal does this send?” Clemmons said. “The actions taken by this body, especially at this point, if we can’t stand up for children, people looking to invest in the state of Tennessee are going to turn away.”

HB 1840 is just the latest state-enacted legislation to use the umbrella of religious liberties as a code for the legalized discrimination of LGBT persons. In the past two weeks, GOP-controlled legislatures have passed similarly dangerous laws in Mississippi and North Carolina, with Alabama, Minnesota, and Nebraska all having similar legislation introduced on their house floors.

The Tennessee Equality Project has a petition asking Governor Haslam to veto the bill.

Yet another reminder that the Democrats need a strong showing in state elections this November along with the national races.

About Adam Ciminello

Entrepreneurship, Social Justice, and the idea of Bono never performing again are all things that excite me. And yes, my grandma is cooler than yours. Say hi sometime on twitter @Aciminello

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