Religious exemption laws in the US are threatening LGBT+ equality, warns report

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In the US, a baby can legally be rejected as a patient by a paediatrician just because its parents are gay.

And a same-sex couple might have to go all the way to the Supreme Court to argue that a baker refusing to make them a wedding cake is discrimination, if ruling that is expected later this year goes ahead.

Now, it's 2018, America is apparently great again and yet LGBT+ rights are under a new, heightened threat from a wave of new 'religious exemption' laws under Donald Trump.

These laws have the power to strip LGBT+ people of their basic rights.

Amid the celebrations after the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of marriage equality in 2015, at least eight states quietly enacted laws that took the country in the opposite direction – and a Human Rights Watch report warns that at least six more could join them

The laws vary. But in some cases, they allows doctors to refuse to treat LGBT+ people and their children, adoption agencies to deny them the right to a family, and funeral homes to refuse to cremate anyone who turns out to have been gay.

In what comes as a surprise to no one, endangering such fundamental rights has devastating effects. Erin Busk-Sutton, a lesbian woman who was turned away from a religious foster care agency in Michigan, told Human Rights Watch:

[It was] the worst experience of my life, being told by a stranger that I wouldn't be a good mother, essentially.

Even if you aren't personally rejected, the fear can be enough to give up seeking out certain services. Lisa Scheps, a transgender advocate in Texas, said:

I know of people who don’t even try [to seek services] for fear of being rejected.

And that’s true of any of the rural counties in Texas.

The laws are sold as a protection of religious freedom. But Human Rights Watch warns that first and foremost they protect the freedom to discriminate:

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.

In fact, Representative Jeff Irwin said:

[The] whole goal of this package is to allow agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Lawmakers even rejected amendments that would have ensured the laws could not be used to discriminate against LGBT+ people, several times.

Currently, only 19 states and the District of Colombia explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodation.

More: A mother called a gay bar for advice after her son came out

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