Mississippi’s sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill is now headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has indicated his potential support for the legislation.
Friday's House concurrence vote on the so-called Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act follows a series of preliminary votes in the Senate over the past week.The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill Thursday but had to send it to the House for concurrence as the version passed by the Senate differs slightly from the one adopted by the House in February, reports BuzzFeed.
Opponents say the legislation is one of the broadest anti-LGBT bills in the nation, and would allow businesses, individuals, and religious organizations to deny service to LGBT people based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” It also directly targets transgender residents, effectively claiming that one's sex assigned at birth is immutable, and will be the only gender recognized by the state.
The act states that the government cannot penalize an individual, organization, or business for acting according to the following "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions": that "marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman"; that "sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage"; and that "male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth."
The bill would therefore allow businesses to turn away customers or prospective employees by citing such beliefs, without repercussions. It would allow employees of county circuit clerks' offices, which issue marriage licenses in the state, to refuse service to same-sex couples if they object to the marriage on religious grounds, also without repercussions. It could be used to discriminate against single parents and even conceivably allow employers to fire female workers for wearing pants, as it protects employers' and schools' right to maintain "sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming."
The legislation is similar to the so-called religious freedom bill that failed to become law in Georgia — where Gov. Nathan Deal announced Monday that he would veto House Bill 757, which would have provided a broad right to discriminate. Critics argue, however, that Mississippi’s bill goes even further.
“This is probably the worst religious freedom bill to date,” Ben Needham, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Project One America, told BuzzFeed. And HRC Mississippi director Rob Hill told the Associated Press Wednesday that the bill “says to LGBT individuals in Mississippi what they've heard all their lives — that they're second-class citizens."
Mississippi already had a strong Religious Freedom Restoration Act, considered by some to be the first true "license to discriminate" law, enacted in 2014. “We’ve made this statement in Mississippi. What’s the difference in this bill?” asked Sen. Briggs Hopson during debate in a Senate committee last week, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., reports.
Bryant, a Republican who signed the RFRA, has not said if he will sign the new bill, but he appears sympathetic to it. “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,’” he said this week, according to Biloxi TV station WLOX.
Bryant has a history of opposing LGBT rights. Last year he argued — unsuccessfully — that individual states should be able to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. He has also defended the state's ban on adoption by same-sex couples.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.