While the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community has become more visible and won more legal protections in recent years, state lawmakers have increased attempts to pass legislation that could restrict civil rights for LGBT people. Since 2013, legislatures have introduced 254 bills, 20 of which became law. According to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union and analyzed by The Washington Post, the number of bills introduced has increased steadily each year. In the first half of 2016 alone, 87 bills that could limit LGBT rights have been introduced, a steep increase from previous years. The latest wave of legislation comes at the heels of the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in June 2015.

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The increase in this type of legislation seems at odds with public opinion, where decades of LGBT advocacy have culminated in significant cultural and legal shifts. In early 2015, President Obama made history when he spoke of “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender” people in his State of the Union address. By April 2015, 61 percent of Americans believed same-sex individuals should be allowed to marry, almost a complete reversal from a decade prior. In that same period, transgender people have seen more representation on television, and “Orange Is the New Black” star Laverne Cox was celebrated on a Time magazine cover as the “transgender tipping point.”

Most of the bills are focused on protecting religious freedom

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In June 2013, the Supreme Court strikes down a critical section of DOMA, allowing legally married same-sex couples to receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

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In 2013,  the Supreme Court struck down a critical part of the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing for historic gains in gay rights. In response, many state legislatures introduced what they called religious freedom restoration acts and First Amendment protection bills. Originally backed by the ACLU, these bills are often used to protect businesses and individuals who refuse to serve LGBT people on religious grounds. This type of bill has increased by at least 50 percent every year from 2013 to 2015.

Recent legislation aims to limit transgender rights

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President Obama makes history when he acknowledges lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in his 2015 State of the Union address.

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Legislation focused on transgender individuals, such as bathroom bills, didn’t appear in ACLU’s data until 2015, when four bills were introduced by state legislatures. There have been 30 such bills introduced so far this year. Before this explosion of bills, the federal government had made a few strides toward transgender equality. In May 2014, Medicare regulations changed to allow coverage for sex reassignment surgery. A few months later, then-Attorney General Eric Holder stated that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination based on sex, applies to gender identity as well.

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Now transgender rights have become the focus of the latest struggle between federal and state lawmakers. In the last month, 11 states have sued the Obama administration over transgender civil rights legislation in schools, challenging the scope and interpretation of federal anti-discrimination laws.

Marriage refusal bills have often followed Supreme Court rulings

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In October 2014, the Supreme Court decides not to review lower court decisions that overturned prohibitions on same-sex marriage, a step toward the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide.

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A year after the DOMA ruling in 2013, the Supreme Court decided to uphold a lower court decision that overturned prohibitions on same-sex marriage in five states. State legislatures across the country reacted strongly, introducing marriage refusal bills more frequently.

There was a spike again after January 2015, when the Supreme Court announced it would make a ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that would definitively determine whether same-sex marriage would be allowed nationwide. The number of marriage refusal bills introduced rose 220 percent that year, but only two passed.

Same-sex marriage is now legal, but there are still bills being introduced, largely to protect government employees and religious individuals from legal action if they choose not to perform marriages. So far this year, 17 marriage refusal bills have been introduced.

Other LGBT legislation includes health services and adoption laws

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In March 2016, North Carolina passes HB2, which eliminates anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals.

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This category of bills includes legislation relating to college and university groups​, health services​, pre-emptive protections, and adoption and foster care. Since 2013, eight bills have been introduced that would allow health service providers to deny services because of religious beliefs without the threat of disbarment or license withdrawal, or risk of a civil lawsuit.

The newest category of bills are preemptive bills, which prohibit local governments from passing anti-discrimination bills that exceed protections given by the state. North Carolina passed a bill in March that specified local legislatures must follow statewide policies for single-sex restrooms as not to disrupt commerce across the state.

A state-by-state look at LGBT legislation

There have been 254 bills introduced across the nation since the ACLU began tracking legislation in 2013. Oklahoma has introduced 24 bills, more than any other state, and only one became law. Virginia has passed the most bills with four pieces of legislation becoming law. Nine states and the District have not introduced any legislation limiting LGBT rights since 2013.

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Nationwide

The U.S. has introduced 254 bills since 2013. Of those, 20 have been signed into law. There are 48 active bills.

  • 104 Religious exemptions

  • 34 Transgender rights

  • 62 Marriage refusal

  • 54 Other

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