JACKSON, Miss. — The governor of Mississippi has signed into law a bill that provides protections to pastors, faith-based organizations and business owners who object to being complicit in another’s same-sex ceremony.
“I am signing HB 1523 into law 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, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
As previously reported, on Friday, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed H.B. 1523, also known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. It had been passed days prior in the Senate.
“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and 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 legislation, authored by House Speaker Phillip Gunn, reads.
The bill then prohibits the government from punishing those who decline to officiate same-sex ceremonies or provide services or accommodations for the celebrations, as well as those whose policies require use of locker and restrooms consistent with their biological gender.
It does not permit persons to refuse service in general, but only to decline forms of personal participation in events that conflict with their faith.
“The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that the person has provided or declined to provide … services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” it reads in part.
“The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that the person establishes sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings…”
Homosexual advocacy groups have expressed opposition to the legislation, asserting that it is discriminatory. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Southeast and the Southern Poverty Law Center gathered outside of Bryant’s mansion to urge him to veto the bill.
“H.B. 1523 is a vicious, unacceptable attack on fairness, equality and the rights of LGBT people,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Fair-minded Mississippians and the business community roundly condemn this legislation, and implore Governor Bryant and legislative leaders to stand on the right side of history…”
The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi also released a statement remarking that it “stands as one with our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community and the Human Rights Campaign.”
“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,” it said.
But others have expressed support for the measure, opining that no one should be forced to do anything that violates their faith and causes them to facilitate another man’s sins.
“No person should be punished by the government with crippling fines or face disqualification for simply believing what President Obama believed just a few years ago, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a statement.
“Big business and Hollywood have engaged in economic blackmail in Mississippi just like they have in Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas to try to force government discrimination of those who support natural marriage,” he said. “However, unlike Indiana and Georgia, leaders in Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas have chosen to defend the fundamental freedom of their citizens to believe and live according to those beliefs, rather than capitulate to the economic threats of big business and entertainment.”
“Mississippians from all walks of life believe that the government shouldn’t punish someone because of their views on marriage,” also stated Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Kellie Fiedorek. “After all, you’re not free if your beliefs are confined to your mind. What makes America unique is our freedom to peacefully live out those beliefs, and the Constitution protects that freedom.”