Wednesday evening, the Mississippi Senate approved a sweeping anti-LGBT religious freedom measure. Republican lawmakers hold a majority in both chambers; they believe the bill addresses issues created for people of faith by the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling.
House Bill 1523, or the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” allows individuals, businesses and government employees (including counseling services, foster care and adoption services), nonprofits and other entities to refuse goods and services to LGBT people and anyone who has had extramarital sex on religious grounds. The bill also defines “male” and “female” as someone’s “immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth,” protecting those who decline treatments, surgeries and counseling related to sex reassignment or gender and identity transitioning. HB 1523 prohibits the government from taking action against individuals and faith-based institutions who act according to their “religious convictions.”
GOP Sen. Jenifer Branning introduced the bill, but says it does not allow for any discrimination. “As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite,” Branning said. “It’s about protecting the religious freedom of those who don’t feel they can with a clean conscience assist a same-sex couple.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin criticized the legislation. “This legislation moves Mississippi backward, undermining equality for its residents and jeopardizing its ability to attract and retain fair-minded businesses,” Griffin said. “Governor Byrant 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. Mississippi’s economy and its reputation hang in the balance.”
Griffin’ statement comes two days after Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to deny services to LGBT people on religious grounds. “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in the state of Georgia,” Deal said in a statement.
And last Wednesday evening, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill that overturns local gay and transgender protections in a special one-day session that cost taxpayers approximately $42,000. Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law mere hours after its introduction. The bill was a direct response to a prior nondiscrimination ordinance in the city of Charlotte, which had offered a wide range of protections. Most notably, the Charlotte ordinance allowed citizens to use the restroom that best matches their gender identity. State lawmakers acted ostensibly out of concern that women and children could be victimized by sexual predators posing as transgender to enter women’s restrooms.
Both states faced swift condemnation from business leaders. Bank of America, which has its headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, announced it was joining over 80 chief executives, including Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey and Apple CEO Tim Cook, in opposing the new legislation. The CEOs voiced their concerns in an open letter to
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