‘Religious Liberty’ Bills Are Destroying LGBT Rights

International advocacy group Human Rights Watch released a report this week, detailing the many ways in which so-called religious freedom bills undercut LGBT equality in the United States.

The 41-page report, entitled “‘All We Want is Equality’: Religious Exemptions and Discrimination against LGBT People in the United States,” examines the impact of religious exemptions bills introduced across the U.S. to carve out the freedom to refuse service to LGBT people.

“Describing these laws as ‘exemptions’ is misleading,” Ryan Thoreson of Human Rights Watch stated. “Given the dearth of laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination in the first place, legislators are getting it exactly backwards and creating exceptions before they’ve ever established the rule.”

Living in Fear of Discrimination

In constructing the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 112 people, mostly from three states dealing with religious exemptions laws: Mississippi, Tennessee and Michigan. Currently, approximately eight states have legal religious exemptions in place for services like foster care and adoption, meaning LGBT people can be denied the right to be parents. Several states are considering similar “license to discriminate” exemptions, while only 19 states and the District of Columbia provide comprehensive and explicit protections for LGBT people in all sectors of life.

Given that the federal government has abandoned LGBT rights and is now actively pushing license to discriminate exemptions in health care, employment and school policy, this issue takes on even more urgency.

Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, a lesbian pastor in Mississippi, characterizes the situation as follows:

We’re not being melodramatic. You’re being treated with disrespect, as a second-class citizen—not even a citizen, an outsider. And after a while, that begins to tear a person down, to hurt them emotionally and spiritually. Rejection is hard for everyone, and we get it over and over.

LGBT people have been turned away from adoption and fostering services because the agencies — which receive taxpayer funds through state allowances — refuse to serve same-gender couples, as well as unmarried couples and other classes. Michigan passed legislation to this effect, and as the report notes, lawmakers specifically rejected amendments that would have protected LGBT people.

It cannot be argued, then, that the intent here was just to protect religious liberty. This legislation was clearly designed to exclude and discriminate against same-gender couples. And these bills also impact their childcare rights for LGBT people.

Tanya P came up against this when she sought gender-affirmation treatment for her trans child. She told Human Rights Watch that the doctor didn’t just refuse to treat her child, but that he lectured her too:

He didn’t feel it was the right thing to do, to have ID documents saying female. [But] that’s not his call to make. And he made a long speech about his religion, which is quite uncomfortable… He professed his faith, he said he’s a man of God… It’s not him giving permission, or condoning it, it’s literally just saying, yes, I referred her to an endocrinologist, yes, she’s seeing a therapist. But there was something about it he felt he couldn’t support, like it would bother his own conscience or something.

Other accounts corroborated that this refusal in medical care is particularly problematic. Parents describe being told that a physician runs a “Christian practice” and therefore would counsel against children who self-identify as LGBT. This kind of discrimination manifested in child welfare access, right through funeral services access and more.

The report also finds that there is a wider effect on LGBT people in these states. Even LGBT individuals are not directly interacting with discriminatory services, they fear discrimination from wider civil society.

Human Rights Watch  explains:

Lawmakers should enact nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, housing, health care, and access to services, Human Rights Watch said. States with sweeping exemptions should repeal them, and legislators who are considering these bills should reject them in favor of more balanced protections that do not jeopardize the rights and well-being of LGBT people.

As this report shows, religious exemptions aren’t actually for the vast majority of people of faith because they are already protected under the US Constitution, federal law and state law. Instead, these laws are created by those who want to impose their religion in everyday life and specifically discriminate against LGBT people.

Photo Credit: The All-Nite Images/Flickr


Chrissie R
Chrissie R5 days ago

Thank you for posting.

Maureen G
Maureen G7 days ago

Christina S....what you say about all children being either boys or girls is not correct. There are children born both male and female plus many with other gender issues.

DAVID fleming
DAVID fleming9 days ago


Karen H
Karen H10 days ago

For some reason, the Religious Right thinks that giving anyone rights takes away THEIR rights. "If we can't discriminate against them (whoever that may be), that means WE are being discriminated against!"

DAVID fleming12 days ago


Bill E
Bill Eagle15 days ago

It is not a "Right" when you deprive other people of their rights.

Karen H
Karen H18 days ago

Christina S, do children need male/female parents like the Turpins, who shackled their 12 children and treated them horribly? There are many examples like this. Male/female "parents" who starve, beat, even murder their children. What about single parents? What children need are parents who love them, whether those parents are male/female, male/male, female/female.

Leo C
Leo Custer20 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Past Member
Cruel Justice21 days ago

The imaginary guy in the sky says he doesn't exist so who are we to argue? Without religion NO ONE would care as "religious freedom" wouldn't even exist.

pam w
pam w22 days ago

This ''religious freedom'' BULL PUCKY is only a ''right'' to hate others and get away with public/personal discrimination. NOBODY is suffering from a governmental push to deny them the right to celebrate their religion in churches and homes. Their issue is a desire to enforce their religion on all of us...and that's indefensible.

Thanks to ACLU and FRFF and American Humanists! They'll continue to fight this nonsense.