Mississippi now boasts the nation’s most aggressive anti-LGBT law, after Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523 into law this morning.
The first-of-its-kind law will take effect in July, and allow businesses, individuals, and religiously affiliated organizations to deny service to LGBT people, single mothers, and others who somehow offend an individual's "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 Republican governor announced that he had signed the bill in a tweet on Tuesday morning. It was accompanied by a statement contending that he signed HB 1523 “into law to protect sincerely held religious believes and moral convictions.”
“This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom,” the governor’s statement continued. “This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws.”
Opponents say the legislation, formally called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, is one of the broadest anti-LGBT bills in the nation.
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."
"Gov. Phil Bryant's decision to sign HB 1523 into law is unconscionable,” said Jody E. Owens, managing attorney in Mississippi at the progressive Southern Poverty Law Center in a statement. “This newly enacted law — like the draconian anti-LGBT laws in other states — uses the guise of ‘religious freedom’ to justify discrimination, mistreatment and bigotry. It’s the same sort of rationale used by white supremacists in earlier eras to justify slavery and Jim Crow. The estimated 60,000 LGBT people in Mississippi deserve better. We need to stand up for the rights of all people."
The Human Rights Campaign, which helped organize a rally outside the governor’s mansion Monday night urging Bryant to veto the bill, was similarly pointed.
“Gov. Phil Bryant adds his name to a list of disgraced Southern governors by signing this hateful and discriminatory bill into law,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a statement today. “Governor Bryant refused to meet with LGBT people and even turned us away at the door of his office. He refused to listen to business leaders. He refused to listen to Mississippians. And now his state will suffer because of his ignorance and failure of leadership.”
“This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi in a statement. “This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty. Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame.”
Mississippi already had a strong Religious Freedom Restoration Act, considered by some to be the first true "license to discriminate" law, enacted in 2014. 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.