Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, a
Republican, on Thursday signed a bill critics say will allow
discrimination against the LGBT community.
Senate Bill 215 requires a state
government agency to show a “compelling governmental interest” to
interfere with an individual's religious beliefs.
Twenty-one states have similar
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) laws.
“The governor signed SB215 into law
to protect the freedom of people of all faiths to exercise their
sincerely held religious beliefs,” a spokesperson for the governor
said in a statement. “Montana joins 21 other states with RFRA laws,
where it has historically been used to allow Native American children
to wear braids in school, Sikhs to wear turbans in the military, and
Christian employers to refuse to cover abortions under their health
The American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) of Montana opposed the bill. It said that the law could be
used by wedding providers to refuse services to same-sex couples and
by pharmacies to turn away women seeking to fill a birth control
prescription, among other examples.
According to the Human Rights Campaign
(HRC), the nation's largest LGBT rights advocate, more than 250
anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this
session. Nearly half target the transgender community.
“The slate of anti-LGBTQ bills that
are rippling through the Montana state legislature will generate
serious consequences for all Montanans,” HRC President Alphonso
David said in a statement. “SB 215 will have a significant impact
on vulnerable communities in Montana – including people of faith,
women, and LGBTQ people. It will also jeopardize Montana businesses
that voted for Governor Gianforte with the hopes of getting the
state’s economy back on track. Let me be clear: religious liberty
and equality are not mutually exclusive, and Montanas will not stand
by as Governor Gianforte and fearful legislators seek to actively
discriminate against the LGBTQ population.”
HRC noted that in 2015, then-Governor
Mike Pence signed a similar RFRA bill in Indiana which was met with
significant backlash, leading to a decline in state revenues.