2015 LGBT Legislative Roundup

June 24, 2015

June 23, 2015

We’re all holding our breath for the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage, which will be announced any day now. At the same time, we’re also finally catching our breath, because by the end of this month, all but a handful of state legislatures will be out of session.

This state legislative session was extremely hard on our community. It’s been described as “brutal” and “unprecedented,” in terms of both the number and variety of anti-LGBT bills introduced. There are two clear reasons for this:

  • Conservatives now control 68 out of the 99 state legislative chambers, up from 59 the year before.
  • The upcoming Supreme Court decision has caused backlash.

What does this backlash look like in terms of legislation? Twenty-seven RFRAs were introduced in sixteen states in 2015. Two of them were signed into law. These so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” are broad bills that make it legal to discriminate against someone, if the person doing the discrimination has “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

It didn’t end there: we also saw other types of anti-LGBT legislation, many of which we’d never seen before. In addition to the 27 RFRAs, there were another 51 bills also related to “religious freedom,” targeting things like adoption and marriage licenses. Bills not related to religion targeted bathroom use by transgender individuals and local nondiscrimination protections.

One could say that opponents of LGBT equality have taken a “let’s throw as many different types of bills at the wall as we can and see what sticks” approach.

Just how much worse was 2015 than other years? To put things in perspective, in 2014, new or enhanced RFRAs were introduced in just eight states. Only one of them passed, in Arizona, where it was vetoed by the governor rather than becoming law.

Let’s take a look at the five major categories of bills introduced this year:

What this chart clearly shows is that some things did in fact “stick”, but a much greater number did not. It’s worth noting that two other types of bills are not included: bills that targeted college and university student groups, and government contractors, and those regarding access to health services.

Despite defeating dozens of bills and passing important protections in several key states, we clearly lost ground in 2015. Let’s look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The Good:

  • Utah became the first state to pass an LGBT-inclusive statewide nondiscrimination law.
  • Local nondiscrimination protections were secured in several states, including Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
  • Anti-LGBT bills were defeated in 20 states.

The Bad:

  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation disallowing lawsuits against Christian pastors for refusing to marry same sex couples.
  • Utah’s law prohibits employers from disciplining or firing a person for expressing religious, moral and political beliefs, including convictions about marriage, family and sexuality, on and off the job, as long as it's not harassing, disruptive or counter to a company's business interests.
  • Springfield, Missouri’s LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance was narrowly repealed.

The Ugly:

  • Arkansas and Indiana both passed RFRAs. While “fixed” at the last minute, these new laws still allow blatant discrimination.
  • Michigan passed a law allowing adoption and foster care agencies to deny services to LGBT individuals.
  • North Carolina passed a law that allows magistrates and clerks to refuse to perform same-sex marriages or issue marriage licenses if doing so violates their religious beliefs. The governor vetoed it but the legislature overrode the veto.
  • Arkansas passed a law that bans local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances.
  • Louisiana defeated a bill designed to protect state contractors, licensed professionals, and businesses that refuse to accommodate same-sex couples. The governor then extended the same “protections” through an executive order.

Once the Supreme Court decides on marriage we’ll harness our momentum for whatever comes next. While we should prepare for the worst, it’s likely that LGBT people across the country will be celebrating. Meanwhile our opponents will begin plotting further attacks on our basic rights. Equality Federation will continue our work with state and national partners to counter their efforts with messaging guidance, best practices and other resources. Together, we defeated all but 7 out of more than 85 bad bills this year and we’ll keep up that fight until everyone enjoys full equality.

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