• Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Tennessee joins North Carolina and Mississippi in passing legislation it claims protects religious freedom, but critics argue actually erodes protections for LGBTQI people.
By
Drew Sheldrick

13 Apr 2016 - 2:42 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2016 - 2:42 PM

Tennessee has become the latest US state to push forward with "religious freedom" legislation that critics argue targets LGBTQI rights. House Bill 1840 is now headed to Tennessee governor Bill Haslam's desk after alterations to the original bill, which allow mental health professionals to use "sincerely held principles" to deny service to anyone, passed the state House and Senate Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee argues that the bill would allow counsellors and therapists to discriminate against clients based on the counselor’s own religious beliefs, and could cause significant harm to vulnerable people who are seeking help.

"[Under the legislation] a counsellor could refuse to see a lesbian simply because of her sexual orientation, or to see a couple involved in an interfaith relationship," the ACLU warns.

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Earlier this month the governor of the US state of Mississippi approved House Bill 1523 which makes it legal for both private business owners and government workers to refuse services to same-sex couples if it is in keeping with their “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”. The legislation has been compared to racial segregation.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed an executive order Tuesday in response to concerns about that state's new law amid accusations it too is discriminatory, but stood firm on a provision restricting transgender bathroom access.

McCrory's order adds anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees and asked lawmakers to restore the right to sue in state court for discrimination.

"I have come to the conclusion that there is a great deal of misinformation, misinterpretation, confusion, a lot of passion and frankly, selective outrage and hypocrisy, especially against the great state of North Carolina," McCrory said in a statement.

"Based upon this feedback, I am taking action to affirm and improve the state's commitment to privacy and equality."

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The move came after Deutsche Bank announced it was freezing plans to create 250 new jobs in North Carolina after the state enacted a law last month that bars transgender people from using bathrooms or locker rooms in schools and other public facilities that do not match the sex on their birth certificate.

Last week, PayPal Holdings cancelled plans to open a global operations centre in Charlotte, North Carolina, and invest $US3.6 million in the area and rock star Bruce Springsteen called off a concert in the state to protest the law.

-with AAP.