Proponents of these laws argue that they properly balance religious freedom with the rights of LGBT individuals.
In fact, with few exceptions, the laws as drafted create blanket exemptions for religious believers to discriminate with no consideration of or even mechanism for consideration of the harms and burdens on others.
From August 2017 to January 2018, researchers interviewed 112 LGBT people, service providers, and advocates, primarily in states that have enacted religious exemptions in recent years, about the discrimination that LGBT people have faced because of an absence of comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation and the passage of legislation that provides for exemptions based on religious or moral beliefs.
The results of this research indicate that the laws already enacted in eight states and the bills still under consideration in many more do not strike a proper balance between the freedom of religion and the equal rights of LGBT people under the law.
Interviewees were given the option of using pseudonyms in published materials for the project; where pseudonyms are used in this report, that is reflected in the footnote citation.
But when exemptions to laws to accommodate religious beliefs or practices impinge on the rights of others or core societal values like nondiscrimination, lawmakers should proceed with caution.Together, the failure of most states to enact nondiscrimination protections and the growing number of religious exemption laws leave many LGBT people with little recourse when they encounter discrimination.While these exemptions are almost always couched in the language of religious freedom or religious liberty, they directly and indirectly harm LGBT people in a variety of ways.While LGBT equality is not the only area where exemptions have been debated—particularly as lawmakers have sought to substantially broaden exemptions related to sexual and reproductive healthcare—this report specifically examines a worrying wave of exemptions being introduced to blunt the recognition of LGBT rights across the United States.The freedom of religion, as well as nondiscrimination, is a significant rights issue, and it is important that governments do not unnecessarily burden the exercise of religious conscience.In recent years and mostly since 2015, when the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, numerous states have considered and at least eight US states have enacted new laws that permit people to infringe on the rights of LGBT individuals and their families to the extent they believe that discriminating against them is necessary to uphold their own religious or moral beliefs.In 2018, lawmakers in at least six other states will consider similar legislation. As has been widely publicized, some would permit people to refuse to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies or to provide goods and services related to such weddings.The outreach focused on eight states where statewide exemptions affecting LGBT people had been legislatively enacted at the time the research began: Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.Researchers conducted a total of 112 interviews, including 30 individuals who were affected by discrimination and 82 advocates and providers working with affected individuals.Human Rights Watch conducted the research for this report between August 2017 and January 2018.To identify interviewees, researchers conducted outreach through national and state LGBT groups, legal advocates, and service providers who circulated information about the project to their networks.