The governor of Mississippi has signed a law that is widely regarded as a piece of anti-LGBT legislation. The law's proponents, however, say it protects religious freedoms.
The new law would allow religious groups and some private businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The law's stated intent is allow people to cite religious beliefs when denying services, such as that marriage should be between one man and one woman, that sexual relations should only take place inside such heterosexual marriages, and that male and female genders are unchangeable.
Mississippi's Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the bill just hours after it had cleared its final legislative obstacle on April 04. Bryant said in a statement that he signed House Bill 1523 because he wanted to protect "sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions."
"This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws," Bryant said.
"It does not attempt to challenge federal laws," he said, "even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances."
The law, which prohibits communities from passing their own ordinances, is scheduled to take effect on July 1. According to a poll conducted by the Family Research Council, an influential Christian lobbying group, nearly two-thirds of Mississippi voters supported the law.
Under the new law, a hotel could refuse to rent a ballroom for a same-sex marriage or a jeweler could refuse to sell wedding rings to a gay couple. Any employer or school could refuse to allow a transgender person to use the bathroom of their choice. Among government employees, individual clerks could also refuse to issue marriage licenses and judges could refuse to marry gay couples.
While welcomed by some the law also attracted a great of criticism. In addition to opposition from gay-rights activists, leading state business associations, and a number of large corporations have come out against the bill in recent days. The Republican governor of Georgia had decided to veto a similar religious objections bill in late March after big companies including Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and others had expressed vehement opposition.
Governor of Georgia Nathan Deal just blocked anti-discrimination ordinances against LGBT individuals
"This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone's religious liberty," Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, said in a statement.
"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."
Talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres meanwhile shared the following statement on Twitter:
Religious objection measures began emerging in various states in response to the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. Opponents of the law see it as an attack on the LGBT community, rather than serving the preservation of religious beliefs.
A worrying trend with serious repercussions
The law came just days after the Republican governor of North Carolina signed a law limiting bathroom options for transgender people and prohibiting local communities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances. The ACLU, which is involved in a federal lawsuit challenging the North Carolina law, said it was considering its next steps in Mississippi.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded by banning all non-essential state travel to the state of Mississippi.
"We will continue to reject the politics of division and exclusion. This Mississippi law is a sad, hateful injustice," Cuomo said in a statement.
ss/bw (AP, AFP)