(Reuters) – A Tennessee bill allowing counselors to cite religious beliefs or sincerely held principles for refusing service to patients is headed to the governor, one of a raft of state measures that critics say discriminates against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
The measure protects therapists and counselors from lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they deny services to clients whose religious beliefs conflict with their own. But it also requires that they serve any person who is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. And counselors must refer the clients they will not serve to another counselor who will serve them.
The Tennessee Senate voted 25-to-6 to approve an amendment to the measure on Monday evening after the state House passed the bill last week. Both chambers are Republican-controlled.
The (Nashville) Tennessean reports that if the bill is signed, Tennessee would be the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients. The American Counseling Association told the paper that the measure would be an “unprecedented attack” on its profession.
The U.S. South has been the epicenter of a backlash to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that legalized same-sex marriage. State-level legislation has drawn widespread criticism, including from musicians Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams and companies PayPal Holdings Inc, Coca-Cola Co and Deutsche Bank AG.
Supporters of the measures say they are needed to keep women and children safe in restrooms and to protect religious freedom.
Once the Tennessee bill reaches Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s desk, he has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to take action, said his press secretary, Jennifer Donnals.
Haslam previously told local media that he had not decided whether to sign or veto the legislation but was considering the impact it may have on the state and its citizens.
Tennessee is also considering legislation related to transgender people’s use of school bathrooms.
A new law in North Carolina prohibits transgender people from choosing bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, while a new law in Mississippi allows people with religious objections to deny wedding services to same-sex couples and permits employers to cite religion in determining workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom and locker access.
In addition, civil rights groups are watching a Missouri measure seen as discriminatory.
In Georgia and Virginia, the governors vetoed similar “religious liberty” bills.