The Tennessee House Bill 1840/Senate Bill 1556, which jeopardizes access to mental health care for LGBTQ communities, is getting ready to head to the governor’s desk any day now.
The proposal, dubbed as the “Hate Bill” by critics, declares counselors and therapists have the right to reject treatment of patients they believe are in conflict with their religious principles. The bill is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam, who hasn’t issued a statement whether he will sign it or not.
Advocates of the GOP-sponsored bill declare HB 1840 protects the constitutional rights of counselors, who object on religious grounds to the amended code of ethics of the American Counseling Association, that specifically targets “Christian” counselors. The underlying fear is that unwilling Christian therapists will be forced to treat homosexuals, and without the protection of a law, LGBT communities can slap them with a lawsuit for showing hesitancy or reluctance.
Yet, opponents believe it is the bill itself that denies the LGBTQ community its basic rights — a vulnerable population which is one of the most often in need of therapy services.
Gay rights activists have urged Gov. Haslam to veto the bill, which would let health care professionals discriminate against the communities with impunity. Some also fear the wording of the bill can easily be misconstrued to allow discrimination against other groups like the black community.
“There’s no litigation on what those ‘principles’ are,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D) said on Monday.
Gov. Haslam stated last week he wanted to review the final version of the bill before he decides to sign it.
If he does, Tennessee will become the only state which violates the American Counseling Association’s code that says a mental health professional cannot refuse treatment to a person based on his “values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.”
Although chances are slim that a person belonging to the LGBT community will enlist the aid of a counselor who shows prejudice against them, this law can be very dangerous to people in rural areas who do not have the means to travel to a counselor who shares their own values.
Tennessee is not the only southern state to pass anti-gay bills, though. Last week, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a proposal which allows employers to cite religious values to determine workplace policies and clerics to deny wedding services.