New Mississippi law allows businesses to refuse LGBTQ people

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed a state law that allows businesses to refuse LGBTQ people services based on religious beliefs, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

In his statement, Bryant said that he wanted the law “to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action.”

The law “does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state,” Bryant said.

The law says it protects these three “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”:

  • “Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;”
  • “Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage;”
  • “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 law explicitly protects business owners and employees in photography, disc-jockey services and wedding planning, as well as floral arrangements, cake or pastry artistry, wedding venue rental, jewelry sales and more. The law also protects individuals whose “sincerely held religious beliefs” prevent them from offering certain people “access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings.”

    According to the law, providers reserve the right to reject placing a child in foster or adoptive care with a gay couple, and people who provide gender transition services can also decline to do so.

    HB 1523, or the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” became law after Georgia Governor Nathan Deal rejected a similar law that his state’s legislature had passed, saying: “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”

    Before Bryant signed the law, the LGBT community and some Mississippi businesses protested the legislation, saying the law would allow business owners to discriminate against gay couples without fear of legal repercussions.

    In response to Bryant’s passage of the law, Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, issued a written 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. 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.”

    And Rev. Brian R. Seage, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, wrote that: “The State of Mississippi will likely find itself in federal courts once again, spending large sums of funds which could have been spent on building the future. Those efforts to defend a culture of fear will likely be futile.”

    The law’s passage prompted Vermont to ban official travel to Mississippi, the Associated Press reported.

    The law swept both the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Senate before Bryant signed it into law. It is set to go into effect in July.