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A warning has been issued by the Human Rights Watch organisation saying that “religious exemption” laws recently passed around the United States are “a thinly-veiled assault” against the rights of LGBTI people.

This warning needs to be noted by Australian lawmakers who will be looking at creating “religious freedom” laws surrounding the new Marriage Act in coming months.

Following the release of a new report the organisation said that with the absence of robust non-discrimination protections, the religious exception laws simply function as a license to discriminate rather than a good faith attempt to protect religious liberty and should be repealed.

Documenting how recent laws created new space purely to discriminate against LGBT people in adoption and foster care, health care, and access to some goods and services, the report highlights how the new laws fail to balance moral and religious objections to LGBT relationships and identities with the rights of LGBT people themselves.

“Describing these laws as ‘exemptions’ is misleading,” explained Ryan Thoreson, a researcher in the LGBTI rights program at Human Rights Watch.


“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.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 112 LGBT people, service providers, and advocates in states where religious exemptions recently have been enacted into law.

The majority of the interviews took place in three states. In Mississippi, state law permits a wide array of individuals, businesses, and service providers to discriminate based on their religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, extramarital sex, and the recognition of transgender identity.

In Tennessee, a recent state law permits mental health counsellors to turn away clients based on their religious beliefs. And in Michigan, adoption and foster care agencies that receive support from the state are explicitly empowered to refuse to place children with LGBT parents on account of the agencies’ own moral or religious objections.

Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia also have adoption and foster care exemptions in place.


In the United States currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

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