Pro-Discrimination Bill Advances in Mississippi

Mississippi

A Mississippi House committee today approved a broad “religious accommodations” bill, which would prevent the state from penalizing businesses and individuals, including state employees and contractors, who discriminate based on exclusionary religious beliefs about marriage, gender, and sexuality.

The so-called Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act (alternately known as the Religious Liberty Accommodation Act), states:

“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

House Judiciary B approved the measure 13-4, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reports, and it now goes to the full House for consideration.

While the bill starts out by saying it applies to “persons, religious organizations, and private associations,” it appears to include for-profit businesses, as it also says the state must not take “discriminatory action” against providers of “marriage-related goods or services.” It would further allow state employees to be recused from licensing or performing marriages that offend their beliefs.

The definition of “discriminatory action” includes changes in tax status, denial of state grants or contracts, withholding of licenses, levying of fines, and, for state employees, any negative employment-related action.

The Human Rights Campaign quickly denounced the legislation. “Faith-based organizations could refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples; deny children in need of loving homes with LGBT families; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBT person — even if the organization receives government funding,” notes an HRC press release. Also, the HRC points out, “Schools, employers and service providers could implement sex-specific dress and grooming standards, as well as refuse transgender people access to the appropriate sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity.” And the bill “even legalizes Kim Davis-style discrimination by allowing government employees to abdicate their duties and refuse to license or solemnize marriages for LGBT people.”

Indeed, the bill was inspired by the situation of Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who went to jail last year rather than provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples, The Clarion-Ledger reports.

During today’s committee meeting, Rep. Adrienne Wooten, a Democrat, contended the state shouldn’t make laws like this one, saying legislators have “nothing to do with how someone chooses to live their life,” according to the paper. She said the bill would enable discrimination.

“I think you’re wrong,” responded Republican Rep. Andy Gipson, who chairs House Judiciary B. “This bill is just to protect against discrimination for people who have the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”

It’s one of a dozen anti-LGBT bills being considered in Mississippi during this legislative session, the HRC reports, including one that would amend the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a “license to discriminate” law already in force — to make it clear that adoption and foster care agencies have the freedom to discriminate against LGBT people. Mississippi was the first state to enact such a strict RFRA.

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