LGBT people in America face discrimination in their daily lives. A majority of states allow discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. While there are more states every day that strive to pass laws to protect their citizens from discrimination, many legislatures sponsor bills that invoke religion, pre-empt local protections, and target transgender people to allow discrimination.
“State legislatures are yet again invoking religious freedom to undermine the rights of LGBT people, even though businesses, sports teams, and the public have soundly rejected this divisive strategy year after year,” said Eunice Rho, ACLU Advocacy & Policy Counsel. “Wyoming, Virginia, and South Dakota all have dangerous bills that are poised for a vote within the next week. These bills would allow taxpayer-funded discrimination by individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and more. They must be stopped.”
A few noteworthy bills are highlighted below.
Virginia – bill allowing religious organizations receiving taxpayer funds to discriminate
House Bill 2025 would protect religious organizations that discriminate and would allow them to use taxpayer funds to do so. This bill could be moved out of the House Committee on General Laws and to a floor vote as early as this week.
Rather than solving any actual problem, HB 2025 could allow:
- A religiously-affiliated hospital that receives public funding to refuse to allow a married gay person to make medical decisions for their injured spouse (citing a refusal to recognize the marriage); or
- A homeless shelter that receives a government contract to serve the public to refuse family housing to a same-sex couple with children; or
- A disaster relief organization to fire a caseworker for marrying a same-sex partner.
Wyoming HB 135 – a First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)
The last day for HB 135 to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee is Thursday, February 3. Then, it would move immediately to the House floor, where it must be voted out by February 7.
Wyoming’s House Bill 135, the so-called “Government Nondiscrimination Act,” strongly resembles the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a similar version of which is still pending in Congress. Another version of this bill passed in Mississippi in 2016 and is currently enjoined as a result of a successful lawsuit.
If passed, HB 135 would protect anyone who sought to discriminate based on their religiously-held beliefs that (a) marriage is limited to a man and a woman or (b) gender identity is fixed at birth. This means that government employees, licensed professionals (such as counselors or teachers), and private businesses would be able to discriminate against LGBT people. In response, the government’s hands would be tied; a discriminatory employee could not lose his or her job, cities like Laramie could not enforce their nondiscrimination laws, and a counselor would still keep his or her professional license and continue practicing.
South Dakota SB 115 – bill targeting transgender students
Despite the governor’s veto last year of a similar bill, South Dakota lawmakers introduced an anti-transgender bill (Senate Bill 115) this week. The bill would prohibit schools from allowing transgender students to use locker rooms, changing rooms or other shared facilities that match the gender they live every day. Instead, students would be forced to use the facilities that match their anatomy at birth, as shown on their original birth certificate. This bill would further isolate and stigmatize vulnerable young people.
The bill will be heard by the Senate Education Committee at 7:45 a.m. CT on Tuesday, January 31.
Oklahoma – a host of bills undermining LGBT rights
In the past week, the Oklahoma legislature has filed a number of bills undermining LGBT rights. Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session will begin on Monday, February 6.
- Senate Bill 197 would allow any individuals, privately-held businesses, or a religious organization to refuse – based on religious beliefs about a “marriage, lifestyle, or behavior” – to provide goods, services, accommodations, etc., to promote, endorse, or be used in a marriage ceremony. This would open the door to discriminate against not just same-sex couples and transgender people, but also interfaith couples, or anyone else a business might claim an objection to.
- Senate Bill 530 is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that expands the scope of the existing RFRA to allow it to be used to sue private businesses, not just the government. In addition, by expanding the definition of “substantial burden,” it could allow for a broader range of potential lawsuits.
- House Bill 1507 allows any private child-placing agencies to refuse performing, counseling, or even referring a child for adoption or foster care placement if the agency has a religious objection. This law, if passed, would ensure that the agency is still entitled to government contracts and taxpayer funding.