Although same-sex couples can marry in a majority of the U.S., LGBT protections vary widely from state to state, a fact reflected in the diversity of bills introduced in statehouses this year and a report released Friday by the Human Rights Campaign.
The HRC’s State Equality Index breaks states into one of four categories based on statewide legislation for issues like marriage, non-discrimination, adoption and hate crimes. The category with the least protections includes 29 states, while seven states and the District of Columbia make up the category with the most protections.
Perhaps the most surprising finding in the report is the states which missed the top category, including Massachusetts, which was the first to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, as well as Iowa and New York, which were also among the earliest states. Illinois is another state in this category.
“There are so many places where we just have to move forward,” said Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), who sponsored a bill this session that would ban gay conversion therapy. “Marriage isn’t the end all be all. We don’t get to take our wedding cake and go home.”
In addition to lacking a conversion therapy legislation, Illinois doesn’t have laws to address LGBT youth homelessness, LGBT non-discrimination protections in its health-care exchange, or LGBT inclusive sex-education laws, according to the report.
In a handful of states, bills seeking to limit marriage for same-sex couples have been introduced, including one in Texas that would prohibit state employees from receiving a paycheck, pensions and benefits, if they recognized or enforced marriage for same-sex couples. Other states are seeing religious freedom bills reminiscent of a 2014 Arizona bill that was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) following public outcry.
“What they seem to be trying to do is create these loopholes,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s legal director.
In Utah, a bill that would exempt people from performing marriages for same-sex couples if it went against their “sincerely held religious beliefs” was filed, but so was an amendment to its anti-discrimination act which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class. Both were filed by Republicans.
“I think it’s a very telling moment for our legislature for what direction we’re going,” Utah Sen. Jim Dabakis (D) said. “Do we have place for our culture in Utah to embrace diversity? I think we do.”