States Show A Record Number Of Anti-Gay Bills

With Gov. Mike Pence's signature put on a controversial bill Thursday, Indiana now allows business owners to deny services to same-sex couples. The Indiana "religious freedom" bill limits LGBT rights, and there are other states in the country that have potentially anti-gay legislation in the queue. Currently just 22 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nineteen states outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana prevents state and local governments from "substantially burdening" a person's religious exercise unless they can prove a compelling governmental interest. That law could grant Indiana business owners the legal right to refuse services to same-sex couples. After signing the controversial bill, Pence said in a statement:

The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.

The Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, says that already more than 85 anti-LGBT bills have been filed in 26 states this year. Most generally fall within four categories — religious freedom, prohibition of LGBT protections, criminalization of transgender people using public accommodations or activities, and protection of "conversion therapy."

Religious Freedom

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There are now 19 states that have adopted a state-level RFRA. These laws aren't necessarily aimed at the LGBT community, but they often include vague language that allows residents to challenge or opt out of laws put in place to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination. What's unique about Indiana's RFRA is that it includes private businesses, not just governments. Other states, such as Texas, are looking for ways to lower the standard for what's considered a "burden" on someone's religious practice.

Nullifying Local Civil Rights Protections

These bills could eliminate municipal protections for LGBT people and prevent city councils from passing new laws that prevent discrimination. They have been introduced in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia. HRC says 34 million Americans have more non-discrimination protections at the local level than they do from their states.


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Some states are attempting to limit transgender Americans from accessing public facilities, such as restrooms, school activities, or certain medical care. "Bathroom surveillance" bills can require gender classifications based on birth certificates, chromosomes, or driver's licenses. They've been introduced in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas. In South Dakota and Minnesota, there are bills that would prevent transgender students from participating in sports according to their lived gender. Connecticut and South Dakota are considering bills that would limit transgender patients from receiving gender-specific health care.

Promotion Of "Conversion Therapy"

Oklahoma has introduced a bill that would make conversion therapy a legal option for parents who want to put children in counseling to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill cleared an Oklahoma House committee last month.

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