Sohn: Governor should have vetoed counselor bill

Sohn: Governor should have vetoed counselor bill

April 29th, 2016 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talks with reporters earlier this month in Nashville. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Photo by Mark Humphrey

POLL: Was Gov. Bill Haslam right to sign the counseling bill?

Gov. Bill Haslam made a backward move this week when he signed into law the bill that lets mental health counselors reject LGBT patients because of a professional's own "sincerely held principles."

The bill was reaction to the national focus on same-sex marriage and transgender rights, and was one of several right-wing measures undertaken by our lawmakers this year to excuse the homophobia surrounding one of the newest rights in our land.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini on Thursday called the law Haslam signed "dangerous," and she charged that Tennessee is being run by "an extremist Republican majority drunk with power."

She's right — in more ways than one. It isn't just dangerous because it makes it harder for gays and lesbians to get counseling, especially in rural areas where there are fewer counselors.

It is also dangerous for what the intolerant message portends for our state's future business image.

The American Counseling Association, which fought the legislation that it dubbed the "Hate Bill 1840," now says on its website that "in light of recent legislative actions in Tennessee, ACA is currently weighing options" about its planned 2017 conference and expo in Nashville. And Washington Secretary of State Kym Wyman, a Republican, announced that due in part to the new Tennessee law, neither she nor her staff will be attending this summer's National Association of Secretaries summer meeting in Nashville.

Haslam last week rightly vetoed a proposal to make the Bible the official state book. He told NPR it "trivializes the Bible." He also successfully urged lawmakers to withdraw a so-called bathroom bill, Tennessee's version of legislation that would require transgender students to use restrooms according to their gender assigned at birth rather than one that matches the gender with which they identify. But the governor dropped the ball on the counseling bill.

Therapists, like emergency room doctors, work for their patients. They should leave their own 'beliefs' out of the work that belongs to those patients and clients. Next our legislators will be writing laws excusing various professions from working with blacks or Muslims or uppity women wearing tie-dye skirts.

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