February 19, 2016 at 4:33 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Miss., Ga., lawmakers approve religious freedom bills

Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

A controversial religious freedom bill passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives on Feb. 19, 2016, by an 80-39 vote margin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lawmakers in Mississippi and Georgia on Friday approved religious freedom bills that critics say would allow anti-LGBT discrimination.

The Mississippi House of Representatives approved House Bill 1523, which is known as the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, by an 80-39 vote margin.

The measure would allow officials not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because their religious beliefs. HB 1523 also applies to those who decline to “participate in the provision of treatments, counseling or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning…based upon a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

HB 1523 would also apply to businesses, foster care agencies, employers and landlords.

“Laws and government actions that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage and human sexuality will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse and peaceful society,” reads the measure. “In a pluralistic society, in which people of good faith hold more than one view of marriage, it is possible for the government to recognize same-sex marriage without forcing persons with sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions to conform.”

HB 1523 defines the “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” that it would protect as “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” and “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,” reads the measure.

Critics of HB 1523 also contend it would allow government agencies to sponsor so-called conversion therapy.

“Once again, legislators are modernizing the Jim Crow Era with the passage of HB 1523,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi in a statement.

“When we seek to codify legislation that discriminates against any class of people — no matter our diverse theological beliefs about marriage — we tarnish the treasure of religious freedom and the highest ideals of our democracy,” it adds.

HB 1523 will now go before the Mississippi Senate.

Ga. lawmakers ‘making a grave error’

The Georgia Senate on Friday approved House Bill 757 by a 38-14 vote margin.

The measure would allow publicly-funded organizations and individuals to deny service to anyone based on their religious beliefs.

“Georgia lawmakers supporting this legislation are making a grave error that damages their state’s brand,” said Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe in a statement. “Today’s Senate vote is noticeably out of step with the overwhelming majority of Georgians who disagree with this type of discriminatory legislation.”

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Beth Littrell in a statement urged the Georgia House of Representatives to oppose HB 757.

“Freedom of religion does not give any of us the right to harm others,” she said.

The Virginia House of Delegates earlier this week approved a “Kim Davis” religious freedom bill. A bill that would protect pastors who refuse to officiate same-sex marriages is currently before the Florida Senate.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • It’s gone from a flash in the pan to a backlash wave of homophobia! Everything old is new again. When will you queens wake up to the fact that homophobia like racism never really dies. You may think who you are doesn’t matter to people anymore but it does!

  • So passing all these laws simply lets people know which politicians are corrupt, while also completely sending a message to no longer uphold the rule of law because politicians in these states are trying to kill Americans since these laws permit pharmacies to deny life-saving medicine and ambulance services to ignore hurt people (such services are operated by third party companies – not by hospitals so they aren’t covered under laws affecting hospitals). Genocidal politicians are horrific. You’d think they’d be more responsible but they make money off harming others – they get donations from the merchants who run churches as businesses.

  • As long as there is a privileged class of people who demand cake even at the cost of some other person’s freedom, religious freedom protections are needed.

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