Hospitals in Georgia could soon be allowed to turn away gay patients in the name of ‘religious freedom’
A controversial ‘religious freedom’ bill got unanimously passed in Georgia last night, despite being disturbingly discriminatory towards gay people.
The HB 757, which has been widely condemned by LGBT campaigners, was initially introduced to protect pastors who had issues with same-sex weddings. However, new amendments now mean that the law could extend to all businesses and employees. In other words, even hospitals could technically – and legally – refuse to provide medical care to LGBT individuals, due to their right to “religious liberty”.
“The decision by the legislature today was to make an egregious and discriminatory bill even worse,” declared the Human Rights Campaign in a statement. “(It could) permit hospitals to refuse to provide medically necessary care, or allow a taxpayer-funded service provider to discriminate by denying a job because of the applicant’s religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Given the growing divisions in the US, these aren’t tweaks that should be taken lightly. Small-minded bigotry has often been accepted via loopholes in religious small print, and American states often harbour some of the worst offenders. Even last month, Michigan defied the Supreme Court by making gay sex punishable by 15 years in prison – an unenforceable ruling that, nonetheless, sends out a very weird message.
“It's appalling that anti-equality extremists in the legislature are trying to ignore the will of the people of Georgia” – Chad Griffin
Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, has been one of the many to speak out against America’s new wave of religious extremism. In a report from last year, he called the trend “deeply disturbing”, adding that these kinds of bills allowed homophobic people to use their beliefs as a “shield”. He also pointed out that these kinds of rules can adversely affect women – with some businesses refusing contraception coverage, and pharmacists turning away women who want birth control.
Fortunately, there is still one final stage before the bill can pass to law – and while all of Georgia’s House Of Representatives are keen on the idea, Republican Governor Nathan Deal still has the final say. He is expected to make his assessment within the next week.
“Members of the Georgia House are so blindly devoted to discrimination against LGBT people that they’ve not only ignored weeks of warnings from some of Georgia’s largest employers and faith leaders, but tens of thousands of everyday Georgians who have spoken out against this bill”, added HRC president Chad Griffin. “It's appalling that anti-equality extremists in the legislature are trying to ignore the will of the people of Georgia.”