Mississippi’s Republican Governor Legalizes LGBTQ Discrimination

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Mississippi’s Republican Governor Legalizes LGBTQ Discrimination

Teddy Wilson

The "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" has drawn opposition from both advocacy and business organizations.

Public and private businesses in Mississippi can legally refuse service to LGBTQ people based on the business owner’s religious beliefs after Gov. Phil Bryant (R) on Tuesday signed a so-called religious freedom measure, the Associated Press reported.

HB 1523, sponsored by Rep. Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), creates government protections for “sincerely held” religious beliefs or moral convictions for people, religious organizations, and private associations.

The bill allows denial of services or goods for the “celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” which could also include pre-ceremony, post-wedding, and anniversary celebrations.

Lawmakers in both of Mississippi’s GOP-majority legislative chambers last week gave final approval to the bill. It was passed by the state senate Wednesday in a 32-17 vote, mostly along partisan lines. The law passed through the house Friday in a 69-44 vote, again mostly along partisan lines.

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Mississippi’s LGBTQ population stands at more than 58,000, or 2.6 percent of the state’s total population, according to statistics from the Movement Advancement Project.

Supporters of the Republican-backed bill claim critics have mischaracterized the measure.

Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton), an attorney and Baptist pastor, said during the house debate Friday that the media coverage of the bill has been biased. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t buy the deceptions, the untruths of these articles that you’ve seen. The talking heads—they’re wrong. This is an anti-discrimination bill,” Gipson said, reported the Jackson Free Press.

Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said in a statement that the purpose of the bill was not to protect “religious liberties.”

“Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame,” Riley-Collins said.

The bill, called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” has drawn opposition from both advocacy and business organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA).

“It is clear that many of our members find that HB 1523 would violate their corporate policies expressly providing for an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity. This is not a bill that the MMA supports and we hope that it will not find its way into law,” Jay C. Moon, president and CEO of the MMA, said in a statement Monday.

A spokesperson for Nissan, one of the state’s largest employers and a member of the MMA, told the Clarion-Ledger that the company continues to oppose the legislation. “It is Nissan’s policy to prohibit discrimination of any type, and we oppose any legislation that would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals,” the spokesperson said.

HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement that Bryant has added his name to a list of “disgraced” governors who have signed similar discriminatory laws.

“Governor Bryant refused to meet with LGBT people and even turned us away at the door of his office,” Griffin said. “He refused to listen to business leaders. He refused to listen to Mississippians. And now his state will suffer because of his ignorance and failure of leadership. Just as we’re doing elsewhere, we will continue to rally fair-minded voters, businesses, and civil rights advocates to repeal.”