The Slatest

Tennessee Governor Signs Discriminatory Law Allowing Therapists to Refuse Treatment to LGBTQ Patients

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam holds a news conference Feb. 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.  

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Wednesday a measure that allows therapists and mental health counselors in the state to refuse treatment to LGBTQ patients if treating them counters their “sincerely held principles.” The Tennessee measure is the latest in a line of laws passed by southern states, including North Carolina and Mississippi, that target the LGBTQ community on religious grounds. The Republican governor, however, insists the “substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system.”


“As a professional I should have the right to decide if my clients end goals don’t match with my beliefs — I should have the right to say somebody else can better serve them,” Gov. Haslam said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Lawyers can do that, doctors can do that. Why would we take this one class of professionals and say you can’t do that?”

“Opponents of the Tennessee law, including the American Counseling Association, view it as a first-in-the-nation tool that will codify discrimination against the LGBT community,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Supporters have defended the law as a nondiscriminatory measure that will protect counselors who provide help for people dealing with issues ranging from marital concerns to drug dependency.”

The law contains two provisions that are meant to counterbalance the needs of the patient: Therapists are not allowed to refuse care in emergency situations and they must coordinate a referral of a denied patient to another counselor.