Mississippi legislators have given final approval to a "license to discriminate" bill, sending it on to Gov. Phil Bryant.
The state's House of Representatives voted 68-44 Friday to send the final version of House Bill 1523, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act, to the governor, after votes on various versions in the House and Senate, but the bill was held until today via a move called a "motion to reconsider." However, today the House moved it forward by a vote of 69-47, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reports.
HB 1523 would allow widespread discrimination by individuals, businesses, and even government employees if the discrimination is based on religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender. It 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."
These acts could take many forms, opponents have warned -- denial of wedding-related goods and services, even marriage licenses; denial of housing or employment; denial of adoption services or space in homeless shelters. In addition to sanctioning biased treatment of LGBT people, the bill will put other groups at risk of discrimination, they note, including single parents and unwed opposite-sex couples.
Democratic Rep. Steve Holland called the bill the worst he has seen in his three decades in office, The Clarion-Ledger reports. "There is no way you can justify passing this bill," he said. "We don't discriminate in my family and the House of Representatives shouldn't discriminate."
Bryant, a Republican, has not said if he will sign or veto the legislation, but he appears to be sympathetic to its aims. Many businesses, organizations, and well-known individuals have urged him to veto it.
"We call on Gov. Bryant to veto this discriminatory and deplorable bill, that would put his own constituents at risk of harassment and discrimination where they work, in their schools and in their communities," said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a press release. "Gov. Bryant has a clear choice -- and if he wants to lead his state forward, he should follow the example of Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who understood that discrimination in any form is unacceptable."
Deal recently vetoed an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" bill, while Daugaard vetoed legislation that would have required transgender public school students to use the restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities designated for the gender they were assigned at birth.
The HRC, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Planned Parenthood Southeast rallied against the bill today. Opposition to HB 1523 has been widespread. Officials with businesses including Nissan Group of North America, Tyson Foods, MGM Resorts International, and Toyota have spoken out against it, while representatives of other major corporations have expressed deep reservations. Singer Lance Bass and actress Mary Elizabeth Ellis, both Mississippi natives, released a video decrying the legislation.
And while some religious bodies, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, supported the legislation, the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi condemned it. "The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi stands as one with our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community and the Human Rights Campaign," said a statement issued by the state's Episcopal bishop, Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage. "We respect their painful journey as they have sought full inclusion in our society. Many of them share a Christian faith that is deep and profound. We should embrace their quest for equality and justice rather than placing obstacles in their pathway."