The Montana legislature advanced a bill Wednesday (31 March) that would give the all-clear for entities to discriminate against LGBT+ people on the basis of “religious freedom”.
The Montana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 215, is on track to head to the desk of Republican governor Greg Gianforte– and he’s already signalled his intent to sign it.
The bill, dubbed “dangerous” by activists, would enable service providers to deny queer residents certain goods and aid, from ordering a cake at a bakery to accessing PrEP. Supporters say this would increase legal protections for religious expression.
“The free exercise of religion [is] a fundamental right,” the proposed legislation states.
Such restrictions could soon become a reality after the House voted 61-39 to pass the legislation in its second hearing, The Montana Free Press reported.
Montana lieutenant governor, Kristen Juras, previously flagged the administration’s support of SB215, stressing that the bill is “not a license to discriminate against the LGBT [sic],” the newspaper previously reported.
But the proposals have deeply alarmed state and national advocacy groups.
Not only would the bill allow bakeries, bride salons and photo studios to decline to serve a queer person, it would also drastically curb access to healthcare, the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana warns on its website.
Religious workplaces could refuse contraceptives coverage on their healthcare plans, pharmacies could deny birth control subscriptions, therapists could turn away LGBT+ patients and authorities could reject providing security at Pride parades, activists claim.
According to Human Rights Campaign, a top advocacy group, the bill is “so sweeping and so dangerous that under it, LGBT+ Montanans could be denied access to PrEP and PEP and other life-saving medications by pharmacies”.
“Under this bill, businesses could refuse to comply with investigations into child labour laws.”
It comes just days after Montana’s Senate inched closer to banning trans athletes from taking part in high school and college sports, AP reported.
But in an attempt to forestall federal reprisal, lawmakers amended the proposal so it would automatically be voided if the Department of Education withholds federal education funding from the state if passed.
It comes after sprawling and historic executive order signed by president Joe Biden on his first day of office that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity.