• Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Tennessee has become the latest state to implement controversial laws in the name of 'religious freedom', this time in the area of mental health.
By
Drew Sheldrick

28 Apr 2016 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 28 Apr 2016 - 10:15 AM

The governor of the US state of Tennessee has approved legislation that will allow mental health professionals the right to turn away same sex-attracted and gender diverse people if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law on Wednesday despite calls for him to veto it by advocacy groups, business leaders, and members of the state's prominent country music industry.

The bill declares that "no person providing counselling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviours that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counsellor or therapist."

It's the latest in a series of bills from conservative US states that human rights organisations claim are specifically targeting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

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The US Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) was one of the organisations urging the governor to veto the counselling bill, calling it "dangerous".

“Denying anyone vital mental health services simply because they’re LGBT isn’t just outrageous, it’s outright dangerous,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement following the signing of the bill.

“What’s clear, however, is that legislative attacks that target LGBT people are bad for business. Sadly, the bedrock of Tennessee’s economy – the record companies of Nashville – remained silent throughout the fight to pass this discriminatory law. It's time that they join the growing chorus of Americans demanding an end to discrimination.”

The American Counseling Association has condemned the bill and warned that allowing any health care provider to deny services based on their own “strongly held religious belief” would have a deleterious effect on countless people who seek mental and physical health services.

"The needs of the client are always a top priority, according to universally taught principles in counsellor education, rather than the personally held beliefs of the counsellor. This tenet is a civic and professional responsibility for those who are professional counsellors."

Tennessee singer and actress Miley Cyrus was also among those to speak out against the bill.

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The Australian Psychological Society (APS), through all of its structures, states that it's committed to the full inclusion of people who do not identify as heterosexual and/or people who do not identify with their natally-assigned sex.

"As a professional organisation committed to evidence-based practice, the Australian Psychological Society strongly opposes any form of mental health practice that treats homosexuality as a disorder, or seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation," the APS states on its website.

"The marginalisation experienced by LGBTI people is best addressed via multiple levels of intervention, for example, via organisational, systemic and social change, in addition to psychological services provided to support individuals, couples or families."