TN state Senate panel OKs bill allowing therapists to reject gay clients

Tennessee state Sen. Jack Johnson

NASHVILLE - A controversial bill that would let Tennessee therapists and marriage counselors with "sincerely held" religious beliefs turn away gay patients without risk of legal consequences easily cleared a state Senate panel Wednesday.

Senate Health and Welfare Committee members approved the measure on a 7-1 vote with the lone Democrat voting no.

The bill seeks to protect conservative therapists from 2014 changes in the American Counseling Association's code of ethics. The changes direct that "counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor's personally held values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors."

While it doesn't mention lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, the Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates for gays, said that's the bill's motivation.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said he brought the bill in response to concerns raised by a practitioner in his Middle Tennessee district.