Report reveals the effects of legalized discrimination on LGBTQ people—and proves its illegality

Human Rights Watch has done it again, releasing on Monday an invaluable—and deeply troubling—report documenting the effects of so-called religious liberty laws that permit discrimination against LGBTQ people, among others. The researchers and authors behind the publication have made the effects of these laws legible to those who live outside of the states in which they apply, using not just numbers but stories. 

Consider the words of Pastor Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, a lesbian living in Mississippi:

“We’re not being melodramatic. You’re being treated with disrespect, as a second-class citizen—not even a citizen, an outsider. And after a while, that begins to tear a person down, to hurt them emotionally and spiritually. Rejection is hard for everyone, and we get it over and over.”

Over the past six months, the report’s author, HRW LGBTQ rights researcher Ryan Thoreson, interviewed nearly 120 LGBTQ people across the country, including service providers and advocates in states with laws allowing businesses, healthcare providers and adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate based on their moral or religious beliefs.

The report couldn’t be more timely. These “religious liberty” laws are picking up steam, and a major LGBTQ rights case that hinges on the limits of religious freedom as an excuse for discrimination—the infamous cake artist case, involving a baker refusing to make “cake art” for a gay couple—is before the Supreme Court this term.

In recent years and mostly since 2015, when the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, numerous states have considered and at least eight US states have enacted new laws that permit people to infringe on the rights of LGBT individuals and their families to the extent they believe that discriminating against them is necessary to uphold their own religious or moral beliefs. In 2018, lawmakers in at least six other states will consider similar legislation.

These laws and bills vary in scope. As has been widely publicized, some would permit people to refuse to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies or to provide goods and services related to such weddings. Others, less widely publicized, would permit child welfare agencies, physical and mental health providers, businesses that serve the public, and other actors to refuse service to LGBT people and other groups. Such legislation immediately endangers LGBT rights. By allowing people to elevate their prejudices above fairness and equality, it also threatens the broader principle that people should not be refused goods and services solely because of who they are.