US POLITICS

Anti-LGBT Bills Are Still Flooding State Legislatures

In Oklahoma, lawmakers want to make it illegal for people with HIV to get married. That's just one of about 150 bills across the country that advocates believe target the LGBT community

REUTERS
Feb 13, 2016 at 11:13 AM ET

Legislators in Oklahoma are weighing a bill that would ban people with HIV from getting married. In South Dakota, the state legislature passed a bill that would only allow transgender kids to play on sports teams consistent with the gender on their birth certificates. In Michigan, legislators declined to change an (unenforceable) sodomy ban that could theoretically get you thrown in prison for 15 years.

Last summer, the Supreme Court affirmed the rights of same-sex couples to get married in a landmark decision for gay rights. But, the LGBT community’s struggle for equality is far from over: There are about 150 bills being floated in state legislatures across the country that gay rights activists say discriminate against LGBT people. That’s a spike from 115 in 2015, in what some advocates believe is a far-right backlash to marriage equality.

“This year will be one of our most challenging yet, with anti-LGBT legislators in more than two dozen states pushing deeply harmful laws that would undermine critical protections under the guise of so-called ‘religious liberty,’” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said. “Equally troubling are disgraceful bills targeting the transgender community—from preventing trans people from using public facilities, including bathrooms, that correspond with their gender identity, to denying them the ability to make gender and name changes on crucial identification documents.”

In some cases, the discrimination is direct—legislators in multiple states are weighing “religious freedom” bills that would allow businesses and religious institutions to opt out of providing services to gay couples. A South Dakota bill would even allow taxpayer-funded entities to deny service to anyone who is not in “accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” South Dakota is also considering a “bathroom bill” similar to legislation proposed in Indiana last year that bars transgender kids from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

In other cases, the discrimination is hidden within the language of the bills. The Oklahoma bill, Senate Bill 733, states “the State Board of Health shall require a blood test for the discovery of syphilis and other communicable or infectious diseases prior to the issuance of a marriage license,” and denies marriage licenses to anyone who’s positive. The bill doesn’t specifically mention same-sex couples, but critics believe it is targeting the gay community, which accounts for 78 percent of new HIV infections among males, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been at least 27 bills introduced in Oklahoma in 2016 that directly or indirectly discriminate against the LGBT community, according to HRC, an LGBT rights advocacy group.

“Oklahoma is regrettably leading the nation in the number of bills attacking LGBT people, their families, and visitors in the 2016 legislative session,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said. “These vile attacks are shameful, far reaching, and would no doubt be incredibly destructive to this great state—resulting in multiple, expensive legal challenges and a greatly damaged reputation.” In addition to SB 733, a bill has been introduced that protects gay conversion therapy and “sexual orientation change efforts.”

Sodomy bans were found to be unconstitutional in 2003 but still exist in several states, including Michigan, where it’s unenforceable and largely symbolic. A state legislator there had an opportunity to remove it in the existing law when trying to add an amendment that would create a state registry for animal abusers. He opted not to because of the potential political ramifications.

“But if you focus on it, people just go ballistic,” state Senator Rick Jones told The New Civil Rights Movement. “If we could put a bill in that said anything that’s unconstitutional be removed from the legal books of Michigan, that’s probably something I could vote for, but am I going to mess up this dog bill that everybody wants? No.”