Gov. Phil Bryant signed the controversial Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act into law Tuesday morning, saying he did so to protect the rights of people with "deeply held religious beliefs." HB 1523 has drawn state and national attention with groups as varied as the Human Rights Campaign and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association all calling for the governor to veto the bill.
Republican-led legislatures in North Carolina and Georgia recently generated national headlines with "religious liberty" bills intended to make anti-LGBT discrimination easier in their states. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed North Carolina's measure into law; Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoed a related effort in Georgia.
But as the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, reported, another state entered the fray today.
As the MSNBC report noted, the new state law, set to go into effect in July, "prevents government agencies from taking action against state employees, individuals, organizations and private associations that deny services based on religious objections -- usually interpreted to mean religious objections to same-sex marriage, transgender rights and even extramarital sexual relationships."
By now, the general framework will be familiar to those who've followed similar legislative efforts elsewhere. If you have "sincerely held" personal religious objections in Mississippi, you're now allowed to deny public services under HB 1523.
Those objections, of course, must relate to sex. If an African-American man and woman wanted to celebrate their wedding anniversary at a local restaurant, the owner couldn't refuse them based on a religious objection to their race. But if a same-sex couple wanted to celebrate their wedding anniversary at the same venue, the law now says business owners can deny services for the "celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."
Making matters worse, BuzzFeed's report noted that this same law also covers "those who decline for reasons of faith to provide counseling services, foster care, and adoption services -- even, apparently, those receiving government funding. Clerks who issue marriage licenses could also recuse themselves."
During the debate over the bill, state Sen. John Horhn (D) urged his colleagues to pursue a more sensible course. "Why does this keep happening to Mississippi? Why do people keep thinking so badly of us?" Horhn asked. "This is one of them. It's House Bill 1523 before us.... Ladies and gentleman, we don't need to pass this legislation. We don't need to put another stain on Mississippi."
State Republicans approved the measure anyway.