The governor put his signature to a controversial measure that opponents say will permit counseling professionals to discriminate against LGBT individuals and others.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law Wednesday that allows mental health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat clients based on their own “sincerely held principles.”
Critics of the law, including the American Counseling Association and ASAE, say it could result in discrimination against LGBT individuals, although the counseling bill is vaguely worded to allow therapists to refuse to provide services for any reason, including someone’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Haslam said he signed the bill because it addressed his two concerns: It does not apply if an individual seeking counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, and it requires counselors who feel they can’t see a client due to their personal beliefs to coordinate a referral to another counselor or therapist. Haslam said he does not believe the law is discriminatory against any one segment of society.
The American Counseling Association said the law is in direct violation of ACA’s code of ethics and is an “unprecedented attack” on the counseling profession.
The measure “not only disproportionately affects LGBTQ Tennesseans seeking counseling, but will also have unintended consequences that will reach Tennesseans in all walks of life—whether it’s a veteran suffering from PTSD, a woman suffering from spousal abuse, or a business owner simply trying to attract out-of-state clients,” ACA spokesman Art Terrazas told The Tennessean.
ASAE also characterized the bill as discriminatory and said it could damage the state’s image as a welcoming destination for businesses, meetings and conventions, and tourism.
In a April 13 letter to Haslam, ASAE said it “stands strongly in support of diversity and inclusion practices, not only within the association sector, but in the various municipalities and states in which associations operate. We are deeply opposed to any laws that permit or even give the appearance of tolerating discrimination.”