Jackson, Miss. Governor Phil Bryant has signed HB 1523 into law after rapid movement on the bill by the state House of Representatives. The law, which is set to go into effect in July, sanctions discrimination by individuals, businesses, religiously-affiliated organizations - including hospitals, schools, shelters and others against LGBT people, single mothers, and vulnerable young people in Mississippi. While no other state has passed a law like this, Mississippi also has the dubious distinction of being the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBTQ community do not matter. Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, had the following reaction:
"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. 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."
The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting anti-LGBT laws across the country. Earlier this week, the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality North Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's sweeping anti-LGBT law. The ACLU and its 53 state affiliates are following other bills elsewhere, pressuring lawmakers to not enshrine bigotry into law, urge gubernatorial vetoes and demanding repeal as needed.
JACKSON - Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) lambasted Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant for signing into law H.B. 1523, "The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act." National corporations and businesses have spoken out against the horrific measure, that would allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against LGBT Mississippians in some of the most important aspects of their lives, including at work, at schools, and in their communities. Following Kansas and North Carolina, Mississippi becomes the third state this legislative session to sign into law an explicitly anti-LGBT bill.
Some of the state's largest employers, including Nissan Group of North America, Tyson Food Inc, MGM Resorts International, and Toyota publicly voiced their opposition to the appalling legislation, joining national corporations such as AT&T, IBM, Levi Strauss & Co, MassMutual, General Electric, and Hyatt Hotel Corporations. In a statement yesterday, Jay C. Moon, President and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) called for Governor Bryant to veto the measure saying: "It is clear that many of our members find that HB 1523 would violate their corporate policies expressly providing for an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity. This is not a bill that the MMA supports and we hope that it will not find its way into law."And last week, the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi released a strongly worded statement condemning the bill as well.
"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. "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. Just as we're doing elsewhere, we will continue to rally fair-minded voters, businesses, and civil rights advocates to repeal."
At a rally yesterday evening outside the governor's mansion, HRC President Chad Griffin joined HRC Mississippi, the ACLU of Mississippi, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Gulf Coast Equality and hundreds of advocates from across Mississippi urging Governor Bryant to veto HB 1523. Earlier, HRC requested that the governor meet with LGBT Mississippians, but that call has gone unanswered — and advocates were turned away from his office. Speaker Philip Gunn also refused an HRC request that he meet with the LGBT community before yesterday's final vote on the discriminatory bill.
Under this new law, religion could be used by most any individual or organization to justify discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, unwed couples and others. Tax-payer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBT families including the child's own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBT person — even if the organization receives government funding. It would also give foster families the freedom to subject an LGBTQ child to the dangerous practice of "conversion therapy," and subject a pregnant unwed girl to abuse, without fear of government intervention or license suspension. It would even allow individuals to refuse to carry out the terms of a state contract for the provision of counseling services to all eligible individuals, including veterans, based on the counselor's beliefs about LGBT people or single mothers.
Furthermore, schools, employers, and service providers could refuse transgender people access to appropriate sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity — all in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Justice's enforcement of federal law. HB 1523 even legalizes Kim Davis-style discrimination by allowing government employees to abdicate their duties and refuse to license or solemnize marriages for LGBT people.
Mississippi's HB 1523 is the third stand-alone anti-LGBT bill signed in law in 2016. The attack on fairness and equality are part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being pushed in 2016 by anti-equality activists around the country, including nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. As of today, at least half of these bills have been beaten back around the country.