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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 1, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 14
Mississippi challenges North Carolina for worst-in-the-country status

New law legalizes discrimination against LGBT residents
Section One
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Mississippi challenges North Carolina for worst-in-the-country status

New law legalizes discrimination against LGBT residents

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Mississippi Senate has passed its version of a 'religious freedom' law allowing discrimination against the state's LGBT residents. The March 30 vote was a lopsided 31-17 in favor of discrimination.

HB 1523, euphemistically titled the 'Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,' was rushed through the Mississippi Senate with only two hours of debate.

According to Project One America head Ben Needham, the bill is 'probably the worst religious freedom bill to date' to be passed by state lawmakers.

The state House already passed its own version of the bill in February but must now concur with the amendments made in the Senate. The measure then goes to Gov. Phil Bryant, who is expected to sign it into law.

In a statement, HRC President Chad Griffin condemned the bill.

'This legislation moves Mississippi backward, undermining equality for its residents and jeopardizing its ability to attract and retain fair-minded businesses,' he said.

'Gov. Bryant should be paying close attention to the backlash against discrimination in Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a terrible anti-LGBT bill, and in North Carolina, where fair-minded people and the broader business community are calling on state leaders to repudiate and repeal the discriminatory law passed last week.'

Unlike the similar law passed in North Carolina on March 23, the Mississippi bill does not forbid municipalities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances or raising the minimum wage, but it does provide very broad legal protections for people who want to deny services to LGBT residents of the state.

The bill states that marriage should be recognized only as the union of one man and one woman, that sexual relations are properly reserved to such an opposite-sex marriage, and that 'male (man)' or 'female (woman)' refers to an individual's sex at time of birth.

In addition, HB 1523 would:

o protect individuals, religious organizations, and businesses that take actions due to their religious objections to same-sex marriage;

o protect those who deny services to transgender people,

o exempt those who discriminate from 'government retribution' if they were acting on 'sincerely held' religious beliefs,

o allow people to refuse to provide counseling services, foster care, and adoption services to LGBT residents, including service providers who receive government funding, and

o allow county clerks who issue marriage licenses to recuse themselves from serving same-sex couples.

The measure is considered particularly heinous because it combines 'religious freedom' language with First Amendment justifications for anti-LGBT actions.

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