Despite calls from LGBT advocates urging him to veto the measure, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant wasted little time in signing into law a “religious freedom” bill that enables sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination.
After major media outlets reported early Tuesday afternoon Bryant signed House Bill 1523, Bryant confirmed on Twitter he penned his name to the measure, which enables individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people in the name of “religious freedom.”
“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 institutes of higher learning,” Bryant said in a statement. “This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The governor signed HB 1523 the morning after Mississippi lawmakers tabled a motion late Monday to reconsider the measure, eliminating the last remaining hurdle for approval in the legislature and sending the bill to Bryant’s desk.
Titled “The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” HB 1523 is considered the most sweeping law in the nation to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”
The law prohibits the state from taking action against religious organizations that decline employment, housing or services to same-sex couples; families who’ve adopted a foster child and wish to act in opposition to same-sex marriage; and individuals who offer wedding services and decline to facilitate a same-sex wedding. Additionally, the bill allows individuals working in medical services to decline to afford a transgender person gender reassignment surgery.
The bill also allows state government employees who facilitate marriages the option to opt out of issuing licenses to same-sex couples, but the person must issue prior written notice to the state government and a clerk’s office must not delay in the issuing of licenses.
Critics say HB 1523 would allow discrimination against single mothers, same-sex couples and their families, transgender people, and children, such as denying them housing in homeless shelters, important medical care or employment. Moreover, critics say the bill would authorize conversion therapy for LGBT young people in foster care.
Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said Bryant’s signature of HB 1523 marks a “sad day” for Mississippi.
“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,” Riley-Collins said. “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.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, slammed Bryant on Twitter for signing the measure, saying it demonstrates the governor’s “ignorance” and accusing him of refusing to meet with business and LGBT leaders.
— Chad Griffin (@ChadHGriffin) April 5, 2016
.@PhilBryantMS refused to meet with LGBT people & listen to business leaders. Now his state will suffer because of his failure of leadership
— Chad Griffin (@ChadHGriffin) April 5, 2016
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, crowed in victory over Bryant’s signature, saying the law “gives fresh momentum” to stop what he called efforts on behalf of the government to discriminate against people who believe in one man, one woman.
“We applaud Gov. Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and House Speaker Philip Gunn, for standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the people they represent,” Perkins said. “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.”
Mississippi has no state law against anti-LGBT discrimination that the “religious freedom” bill would compromise, nor does any municipality in the state have an ordinance against anti-LGBT bias, so the discrimination afforded under HB 1523 is already legal under state law. The measure could undermine a future state law or city ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination.
In 2014, Bryant signed into law “religious freedom” legislation seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, but the new measure allows even broader discrimination against LGBT residents.
Bryant signed HB 1523 into law despite growing criticism of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory for signing into law a different anti-LGBT measure that undoes pro-LGBT city non-discrimination ordinances and prohibits transgender people from using the public restroom consistent with their gender identity. It remains to be seen whether a similar clamor will grow urging Bryant to repeal the “religious freedom” bill in Mississippi.
Companies doing business in Mississippi have spoken out against the bill, including Nissan, Toyota, Tyson Foods and Levi Strauss. The Mississippi Manufacturers Association urged a veto, saying the bill is contrary to corporate policies of its members “expressly providing for an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity.” Also making his opposition known is Mississippi native and former N*SYNC singer Lance Bass, who came out as gay in 2006.