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Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis may face fines or even jail time for denying same-sex couples marriage licenses in Kentucky. But it's a good thing she's not clerking in North Carolina, because then her actions would have been protected by law.

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) has released a report on state and federal religious exemptions and the consequences therein for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Such legislation has been passed in roughly half of the United States, and, whether intentionally or not, it leaves the door open for various forms of discrimination against LGBT people—not to mention with women, people seeking healthcare, children, and other vulnerable groups.

Graphic courtesy of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP)

According to MAP, a total of 21 states have some sort of broad, explicit religious exemption law on the books. It's worth noting that 43% of all LGBT Americans—that's nearly half—live in these states.

North Dakota, Michigan, and Virginia allow state-licensed adoption agencies to refuse to work with LGBT couples or individuals on religious grounds, while faith-based organizations are allowed to deny services to same-sex couples in Kansas. State officials in North Carolina—where 3% of all LGBT Americans reside—can refuse to marry same-sex couples if they can claim to disapprove of the union on religious grounds.

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North Carolina's religious exemption law was passed in June, the same month that the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a constitutional right for same-sex couples. There's been an increase in this kind of reactionary legislation, according to Heron Greenesmith, an attorney and analyst at the Movement Advancement Project.

"Recently, we've seen an increase in explicit rhetoric that makes the connection [between religious exemption laws and advancements in LGBT civil rights] very clear," Greenesmith told Fusion over the phone on Tuesday. She cited two recent pieces of legislation that ultimately failed to pass in Michigan: one was an anti-discrimination bill and the other was a religious exemption law.

"While [discrimination might not have been] the intention, it's clear that the broad language of religious exemptions is being used to harm others."

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Related coverage:
• What it’s like to be gay and have your marriage license denied
• The Kentucky clerk denying same-sex marriage licenses heads to court
• Kentucky clerk still won’t marry gay couples—Supreme Court be damned

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