Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is facing backlash from LGBT activists after signing a bill that protects Christian counselors who don’t want to advise people in same-sex relationships.
“No counselor or therapist providing counseling therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist,” Senate Bill 1556 states.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBT activist organization GLAAD, claims the law will “target LGBT people.”
“Denying anyone vital mental health services simply because they’re LGBT isn’t just outrageous, it’s outright dangerous,” Ellis said.
But Haslam notes the law also protects clients by allowing professional counselors to send them to someone “better suited” to meet their needs.
“The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system,” Haslam said in a statement. “Rather it allows counselors—just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers—to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle.”
In other words, if a gay couple comes to a Christian counselor for relationship advice, the counselor can refer the couple to someone who won’t advise them to break up—without the threat of a lawsuit. Or an atheist counselor could refer a Christian client to someone more understanding of their faith.
The law does not apply to clients in immediate “danger of harming themselves or others,” nor does it change the standard procedures by which counselors refer clients.
The new law would protect therapists like Marcia Walden, a Christian counselor in Georgia fired in 2010 for referring a lesbian client seeking advice on her same-sex relationship to a colleague whose views would not pose a conflict.
It follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed April 19 by Andrew Cash, a former Missouri State University student expelled from a master’s in counseling program because of his views on same-sex relationships.
Similar cases include counseling student Julea Ward, initially expelled from Eastern Michigan University for attempting to refer a homosexual client to another counselor, and counseling student Jennifer Keeton, ultimately expelled from Georgia’s Augusta State University for her Christian views. Ward won her case against the college and was awarded $75,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
— by Samantha Gobba