Cover Story News

Massive LGBT Backlash Hits State Legislatures

Written by Richard Hack

As legislatures in all but four states return for new sessions in the coming weeks, the LGBT community should brace itself for a major backlash against the advances made in 2015. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over 115 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in at least 31 states including Florida. Of those, at least 27 states have rolled over decisions on the bills to the new sessions, suggesting that 2016 will be a challenging for human rights in general and gay rights in particular.

“2016 will prove a critical year for the fight for LGBT equality in states across the country,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The progress our movement has made is threatened by an organized effort to pass discriminatory legislation that seeks to rollback our hard-won rights. We will have much work to do to defend our rights this year, but we will not waver in our fight to expand the map for LGBT equality to every corner of this country.”

Lawmakers in 33 state legislatures will be in session by the end of next week, and 37 state legislatures will be in session before the end of January, according the HRC. Legislatures in 46 states and the District of Columbia are scheduled to convene during the first four months of 2016.

In 2015, more than 115 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in at least 31 states. Because many state legislatures have provisions that allow bills to carry over into 2016 if they were neither enacted nor defeated, many of these bills are still pending. The largest number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in 2015 were aimed to authorize individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as a reason to refuse goods or services to LGBT people. These bills took many different forms across the country. Proposals included legislative attacks that sought to allow individuals, businesses, and government employees to refuse goods and services related to same-sex marriages in Alabama, the Carolinas, Texas, and elsewhere. In Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, and elsewhere, lawmakers proposed allowing adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBT prospective parents. In more than a dozen states, lawmakers introduced sweeping bills aimed at allowing all individuals and businesses to cite religion as a legally permissible reason to discriminate against LGBT people.

Other anti-LGBT bills sought to restrict transgender people from accessing bathrooms, to eliminate the ability of local governments to protect LGBT residents and visitors, and even to promote the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy.” While not in session this year, in Texas alone, last year at least 20 vicious anti-equality bills attacking LGBT Texans and their families were introduced in the state’s legislature.

In 2016, HRC expects more than two dozen state legislatures to consider anti-equality measures. These include legislatures in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Specifically in Florida, the Pastor Protection bill, introduced by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) in August, purports to protect religious leaders from being forced to conduct same-sex weddings. The bill is unnecessary because religious leaders are already free from being forced to perform any sort of wedding ceremony at all that doesn’t align with their faith or personal convictions. HB 43 moved through the Civil Justice subcommittee and is now at the Judiciary Committee. A companion bill filed in the Florida Senate has not advanced.

Republican representative Julio Gonzalez sponsored the other anti-LGBT bill currently before the Florida legislature. The Protection of Religious Freedom is intended to allow doctors to refuse to treat gay people, adoption agencies to refuse to place adoptees with gay couples, and effectively any business to discriminate against gay people, as long as the business owner says it’s against their religious beliefs to do business with gay people. The bill is broad enough that it lets any business discriminate against anyone for any reason at all – race, gender, disability, whatever – as long as the business owner says it’s against their religion. HB 401 is currently referred to the Civil Justice Subcommittee and does not at this time have a companion Senate bill.