A bill that would allow people to discriminate broadly against LGBT people passed the Mississippi Senate on Wednesday night. The controversial "Religious Liberty Accommodations Act," or Mississippi HB1523, would offer legal protection to individuals and businesses who refuse to serve gay and trans people and couple because they believe that homosexuality is wrong. It is, in a word, worse than the anti-trans bills that have come out of Georgia and North Carolina in recent weeks.
If the bill becomes law, those with a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" that gay people shouldn't marry or engage in homosexual sex, and that people must identify with their sex at birth, can shut those people out of Mississippi life. Under the new law, LGBT residents of the state could be denied all manner of services if they decide to get married, could be fired for being gay or trans, could be denied housing and could be denied medical services. The specifics are laid out in the bill itself:
The bill also allows marriage clerks like Kim Davis to refuse to marry LGBT couples.
LGBT activists are strongly opposing the bill. Before HB1523 passed through the state Senate, protesters went to the steps of the Mississippi Capitol to voice opposition. And Erik Fleming, director of advocacy and policy for the ACLU of Mississippi, told BuzzFeed News that the bill opens the door to other types of discrimination in the state. "“It is reminiscent of what happened 50 or 60 years ago in this same state,” he said, adding, “there were people who had a religious belief that black and white people should be segregated, and you’re opening that Pandora’s box again.”
Ben Needham, who heads the Human Rights Campaign's LGBT advocacy group Project One America, told BuzzFeed that "this is probably the worst religious freedom bill to date."
A few steps are left before the bill becomes law. The Mississippi Business Journal reports that thanks to an amendment, HB1523 will be sent to a House conference. If the final version is approved by a vote, it will appear go to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant. A spokesperson for the governor told the Journal that Bryant "will review it if and when it arrives on his desk.”
He has supported religious freedom measures in the past. In fact, he supported this bill specifically earlier in the week."I don't think it's discriminatory," he said according to WLOX, adding, "I think it gives some people as I appreciate it, the right to be able to say that's against my religious beliefs and I don't need to carry out that particular task."
It remains to be seen whether the bill will become law. Both Georgia and North Carolina have faced backlashes for anti-LGBT bills, so it's hard to imagine that businesses and others won't react forcefully to this one. In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin warned that "Mississippi’s economy and its reputation hang in the balance.”
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.