April 1, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Mississippi legislature approves ‘turn away the gays’ bill
Mississippi, Jackson, Turn Away the Gays, gay news, Washington Blade

The Mississippi legislature has approved a “turn away the gay” bill. (Photo by Chuck Kelly; courtesy Creative Commons)

The Mississippi legislature approved late Tuesday a “turn away the gays” measure that would enable businesses and individuals in the state to discriminate against or refuse services to LGBT people on religious grounds — making a signature from the governor the last remaining step before the bill becomes law.

In a development that largely went unnoticed on the national stage, the State House and Senate on the same day both approved a conference report for S.B. 2681, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The vote in the Republican-controlled House was 78-43 and the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate vote was 38-14.

Much like the controversial Arizona bill known as SB 1062 vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, the six-page legislation never once mentions the words “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” or “gay.” Still, LGBT advocates insist the legislation would have the effect of allowing discriminatory practices against LGBT people seeking services in Mississippi.

Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director, said the bill would in essence make “LGBT people strangers to the law.”

“Before Mississippi has had the opportunity to robustly discuss the lived experiences of LGBT people, this bill would hollow out any non-discrimination protections at the local level or possible future state-wide protections,” Warbelow said. “Just as we’ve seen in other states, this bill is bad for business, bad for the state’s reputation, and most of all, bad for Mississippians. Gov. Bryant must veto the measure.”

Notably, the measure also contains language modifying the state seal in a way adds to it the words “In God We Trust.” The bill also has language that says nothing in the measure “shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government,” which is different from the Arizona legislation.

Now that the legislature has approved the bill, the last remaining step before it becomes law is a signature from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s known for his conservative views as chief executive of a state in the Deep South. Still, Brewer has the same reputation, but she vetoed the Arizona bill after pressure from LGBT advocates, businesses, religious groups and faith leaders.

If Bryant signs the bill, it’ll go into effect on July 1. Bryant’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether he’ll sign the legislation.

It should be noted that sexual orientation and gender identity currently aren’t protected under civil rights law in Mississippi. Based on state and federal law, individuals and businesses could refuse services to LGBT people, such as services for a same-sex wedding, without fear of reprisal regardless of whether or not the bill signed into law.

No municipalities in Mississippi have non-discrimination ordinances, although Starkville, Hattiesburg and Oxford have all passed pro-LGBT resolutions.

Still, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the measure could undermine future state non-discrimination laws, interfere with licensing organizations that have professional regulations protecting LGBT individuals and undermine public university non-discrimination policies.

The measure is part of a nationwide trend of “turn away the gay” bills advancing in state legislatures. Including the one vetoed in Arizona, other similar bills in Georgia, Idaho, Maine, and Ohio were rejected. But similar bills are still pending in Missouri and Oklahoma.

The measure advanced through the legislature after the Mississippi House voted last month to strike text related to religious liberty and instead created a study committee on how to pass such a bill in the future. Despite changes made by the House, the conference committee produced a report that advocates say would subject LGBT people to discrimination anyway.

The legislature’s passage of the bill has won praise from at least one anti-gay group, which says the legislation is along the lines of a federal religious exemption law introduced by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer before being passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the measure simply ensures religious freedom for individuals and businesses in Mississippi.

“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Perkins said. “This commonsense measure was a no-brainer for freedom, and like the federal RFRA, it simply bars government discrimination against religious exercise. The legislature gave strong approval to a bill that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.

Morgan Miller, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, told the Blade although lawmakers attempted to align the Mississippi bill with federal law, the end result “falls short.”

“This bill still could open the door for someone who wants to use their religion to discriminate against others,” Miller said. “It exposes virtually every branch and office of the government to litigation; our state will have to spend taxpayer money to defend lawsuits. It’s unnecessary: the Mississippi legislature has been unable to articulate why this law is needed in our state.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

30 Comments
  • A sickness comes to a flyover swampland. As if their pitiful economy could afford such nonsense "law"-making in THIS century.

    Good luck with this "law" passing muster under heightened scrutiny…You know, since The federal government considers LGBTs as human, too.

    Sheesh.

  • From "No colored allowed" to "No MULTI-colored allowed"?

    We'll see how soon this "State's" non-existent economic future prospers NOW.

    DOLTS.

    (Would never step foot in this swampland in this lifetime anyway….)

  • ON RENDERING UNTO GOD AND CAESAR

    To all you "religious" folks that everyone has been pandering to for FAR TOO LONG: Jesus said two things that call out your meanness and prejudice as 100% UN-godly:

    1) "Love thy neighbor, as you would have them love you". That was His oft repeated message from the God of Christianity.

    Then, in Jesus' famous marketplace rage, where HE WAS CALLING OUT PHARISEES FOR SPEAKING IN PLACE OF GOD, AND TELLING EVERYONE THEY 'KNOW WHAT GOD MEANT BY THIS OR THAT. That’s when he explicitly commanded them to

    2) "render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's, and to God, what is God's".

    We have no choice but to understand "Caesar" as being the govt in place, and our government in place, says "Equality and Justice for All", "All men are created equal", and there is a right to pursue happiness under the Laws set forth by the constitution.

    So let's review: "Equality and justice for all", versus "Love thy Neighbor".

    LOOK AGAIN FALSE PROPHETS: SAME MESSAGE. NO CONFLICT.

  • The injustice of this is heartbreaking.

  • The injustice of this is heartbreaking.

  • Can't wait to never go there.

  • Tony Perkins…1st ammendment is freedom of speech, not freedom of religious bigotry.

  • Luke 10:25-37, Jesus lifted up the Samaritan over the faith leaders because he didn't turn his back on those in need.

    Every generation is tested. Choose to fail to love at your own peril.

  • Wipe that state off our planned U.S. Visit in August .
    Can,t wait to not spend money with their good ole folks.

  • Reminds me of turn away the blacks

  • Religion sanctifies hatred and discrimination first, love and forgiveness are just afterthoughts.

  • Now watch. After next economic "adjustment", when the economy of the USA resembles the current economy of Mississippi, you'll see laws like this one pass all around the country without friction. Desperate, frustrated people look for "outsiders" to kick to make themselves feel better. Congratulations, Mississippi, for your bold leadership … back to the caves.

  • Mississippi didn’t ratify women’s suffrage until 1984!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So, they’re not exactly known for being at the forefront of civil rights protections.

  • Jesus also said, "In as much as you have done it to the least of these, my children, you have done it to me." I wonder if they would refuse service to the son of God?

  • The thing that gets me about such laws is that nowhere in the bible does it say anything about not trading with or not providing services to people considered to be sinners. After all Christianity teaches that we are all sinners so why is one thing that's considered a sin singled out from other things also considered sins? There is no religious commandment that in any way supports such laws. Considering that many on the religious right consider the bible to be the literal truth how do they justify inserting their own bigotry into it? These laws do nothing but give some people the right to discriminate against people they hate for being who they are, religion has nothing to do with it at all.

    Since there is no religious requirement to refuse to trade with people considered sinners these laws have nothing to do with religious freedoms at all but are about enshrining bigotry freedoms. There is no right of bigotry freedom so they have to pretend its about their religious beliefs despite there being nothing in any religion, at least the middle eastern ones I'm most familiar with, that opposes trading with people considered sinners.

    Lets not forget that Leviticus, which is the basis for later biblical condemnations of same-sex sex, is a set of priestly rules mainly focused on rituals instead of everyday life. Leviticus calls having same-sex sex and eating any sort of shellfish abominations and includes other prohibitions against wearing mixes fabrics and shaving your face amongst many other things that people who consider themselves good Christians do regularly..

    The word abomination makes the sins of eating shellfish and having same-sex sex sound like very bad things. However the the word abomination meant something entirely different to the society for which the bible was written. An abomination in biblical times meant something that was ritually unclean. Its only over the thousands of years since it was written and spread to other societies than that which it was written for that the word abomination took on a totally different meaning as something truly horrible.

    Leviticus also calls eating shellfish an abomination so why aren't people who eat shellfish discriminated against like LGBTQ people? The main reason, in my opinion, is that heterosexuals can imagine themselves having sex with someone of the same sex and find it extremely unpleasant. Especially between men since it means one man takes the customary role of women when having sex and misogyny, which has been a staple of so many religions and societies, rears its ugly head. However when they imagine eating shellfish misogyny doesn't enter into it and its a type of food that many consider to be very tasty so imagining eating shellfish isn't at all unpleasant.

    The fact that out of the huge number of sins and rules contained in Leviticus only the prohibition against same-sex sex has survived is largely due to misogyny. In my opinion its also why LGBT liberation gained very little traction until after women's liberation had become widespread and well developed. There's definitely a connection between the state of women's rights amongst the religious right that controls much of the the deep south, as seen in the constant attacks on women's reproductive rights, and the state of LGBTQ equality rights in those same states.

    Very few Christians have ever bothered reading the entire bible choosing instead to read small excerpts out of context and without considering the society for which the bible written. There's also a strong confirmation bias when they do read it and its largely for that reason that atheists who lack that confirmation bias often have a better understanding of the bible than believers do.

    • Rich,
      You hit every nail of truth on the head, dead on. These haters and defenders of their out of context bible thumping do not have a leg to stand on. Trouble is, their legs out number silent sensible Christlike people in MS. They have been carefully taught to hate. They feel they are on a Holy mission. Boy are they in for a surprise when all in said and done. The real horror story is the destruction they leave in the wake of their backward fear based religion that is anything but what Jesus came here to enlighten us with… love, helping one another and forgiving everyone everything.
      These are the same people who drove the nails into his hands and feet… they are alive and doing… too well today. They need to be held accountable for their actions.
      Old Miss just did a documentary on my life called Beautiful Jim. I was born in Jackson MS in 1951. I left the Baptist Church at ten when I got tired of being called an abomination. I found my way through the civil rights movement, grew up in the good old boy world of Country Music. Was the first openly bisexual country songwriter/entertainer ever in the early 70′s. I managed the Oak RIdge Boys Gospel pub companies, they had no problem with my private life. Loved them, hated the Gospel music bunch. Moved to LA in 1976 and lived there for three years. In the interim the Oaks became the biggest thing in the business. I returned and wrote for them for fourteen years enjoying a very successful run getting my songs cut by many many big stars.
      I tested positive for GRID in 1995. AIDS almost killed me twice between 1985 and 1996. Today I am non-detecteable and have been married to my wonderful wife Brenda for 34 years. Its quite a film. Playing this year 2014, this weekend Apr. 5th in the Crossroad Film Festival in Jackson and Apr. 19th in the Nashville Film Festival.
      My wife and I are on a mission to help stop the spread of a completely avoidable disease. Brenda has continually tested negative all these years. Every 9 and 1/2 minutes an American is infected, every 36 minutes, an American woman is infected. We MUST, as a society pull our heads out of the ground and deal with AIDS, homophobia, bullying… there is a long and a very connected list that can be attributed to these backwood southern preachers and their vote seeking lawyers. The time is now to take a stand and say “ENOUGH!” Peace be with us all. Jimbeau Hinson

  • Gene, not always. I went to the funeral of a gay male friend of mine in the country in MS a few years ago. The preacher was a good man who had a gay son who had died of HIV/AIDS. A preacher who lived in the country. His priest outfit was a black suit and a white T-shirt. He was just a plain man, nothing fancy. Pro-gay. He spoke many good things of this friend and spoke of love, etc. The family members came forward and spoke of many fond memories of this friend.

  • Morgan, you are right. There are decent human beings in MS. Trouble is they are silent on this issue. Afraid they have too much to lose… just like the decent people who stood by and watched them hang innocent people… not that long ago. Time for them all to stand up and do what Jesus would do… throw the money changers out of the temple and vote the heartless politicians out of office. Change starts around the kitchen table sure, but it goes nowhere… if ALL you do is pray. Prayer requires action, to be heard and to be answered. Get up and speak out. Equal = Equal according to the constitution… not the Old Testament… Period.

  • Aww please don't think we are all that close minded. Mississippi is a beautiful state with some really nice people I like to believe I am one of those. This bill saddens me, I think it is unnecessary and history has shown bills like these backfire. Having said that there are many many open minded good Christians in this state who don't necessary understand the long term consequences when you open the door for discrimination.

  • America is no longer America. Next, Mississippi will be voting to bring back slavery. They justified that with the Bible too. This is why we have separation of Church and State.

  • When I think of Mississippi, I think of racism, bigotry, prejudice, intolerance, close-mindedness, and red-necks. So, I am not surprised at the bill. I will not be surprised if it is sign into law by the governor.

  • Scottie Crownewourth-Siddley

    well…really…who wants to go to Mississippi anyways? Barely civilized..perhaps we can turn Mississippi into a leper colony for bigots and trolls…..and holier than thou preachers..pediphiles and Republican congress..oh wait..they are one in the same

  • Betc Rankin Griffith i agree with you that there are many good christians…but why do they let the fools make all the decisions?

  • Roger Macdierney he'd be a pariah in this day and age

  • It would be a cold day in Hell before I would ever set foot in the bigoted hateful hick redneck shit hole!

  • This has absolutely nothing to do with "religious belief". If people are going to claim the right to do anything discriminatory on the basis of their religion, they should have to prove the belief is, in fact, inherent to the religion,

    In this case, it is not.

    It is, instead a picking and choosing of parts of the Bible they want to use to enforce their own PERSONAL beliefs.,

    JESUS was very clear on love thy neighbor and judge not lest ye be judged.

    HOW DARE these people call themselves CHRISTians (followers of Christ) while ignoring everything he taught and instead only invoking a "rule" that Jesus never even brought up.

    I have researched the Bible and it's teachings on homosexuality and I tend to believe that it didn't even reference loving, committed homosexual relationships that we see today. The ones that result in marriage and a family unit consisting of children.

    If you dig deep, you'd realize the word "homosexual" wasn't in the original Greek and Hebrew texts – the word was used when there was no better one to use when translating the Bible into English.

    In fact, the Bible spoke against the sexual abuse of young boy prostitutes (Catamites) – ie "do not lie with a man as you do with a woman" – women were not treated like anything but objects back then and to treat a fellow male that way….THAT was the "abomination".

    Also, the story of Sodom??? The Sodomites (citizens of Sodom) wanted to GANG RAPE the angels, but Lot instead offered up his DAUGHTERS to be raped instead to save them. The sins of Sodom were inhospitality and GANG FREAKING RAPE.

    There are many other explanations of the mistranslations and inevitable resulting misinterpretations…if anyone who really loved as Christ taught them to, they would have dug for this information as I did – because it completely contradicted my understanding of Jesus' message and personal experience.

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