The far-reaching anti-LGBT law on its way to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant would provide broad legal protections for individuals, businesses and religiously affiliated organizations that engage in activities deemed discriminatory by a host of civil rights groups.
The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act would allow discrimination by individuals, businesses and religiously affiliated organizations that have “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” against transgender people, same-sex marriage and sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage.
“It is saying a person’s religious belief about these specific types of things always trumps and you can always refuse service,” said Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights advocacy group.
“This means that single moms, same-sex couples and their families, transgender people and vulnerable kids can face discrimination, including being turned away from a homeless shelter, denied important medical care, or lose their jobs,” according to a recent blog by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.
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The Mississippi bill is the latest in a flurry of state laws targeting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people who comprise the LGBT community.
Since January, the Human Rights Campaign has identified more than 50 proposed state laws targeting the rights of transgender people and more than 200 anti-LGBT laws. Throughout 2015, HRC tracked only 110 anti-LGBT laws and 21 anti-transgender proposals.
Most of the laws died in the various state legislatures, but North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed the controversial bill known as HB2 into law. The legislation established a new state standard by not protecting against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The law was in response to a city of Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use public restrooms based on their gender identity. HB2 now bans transgender people from using restrooms based on their gender identity and prohibits a city from passing an ordinance that includes anything not written into state law.
Mississippi’s law has been characterized as a “religious freedom” bill, a characterization used in other states as well. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, both vetoed similar bills last month.
“These poll results confirm the broad and diverse support (the legislation) has across the state,” said a statement from Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
“Mississippians understand that religious freedom is the most basic and important of all our freedoms,” said Thigpen.
He said the law is “narrowly focused to protect sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage being a one-man/one-woman relationship.”
Oakley said Mississippi’s law is more like a “religious refusal law” in which people, businesses and religious organizations – including schools, hospitals and homeless shelters – with strong religious beliefs about same-sex marriage, transgender people and sex outside of heterosexual marriage would “then be able to deny service to people based on your religious dislike of them.”
“So it’s writing your ability to discriminate against them into law,” Oakley said. “There’s no idea that maybe non-discrimination is maybe more important than someone’s religious belief.”
Mississippi ACLU said the law would allow government employees not to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, while medical care and fertility services could be denied to transgender and LGBT people or single women.
And businesses “offering goods and services relating to weddings, baby showers, or anniversaries would be authorized to discriminate against customers,” the ACLU release said.
Some of Mississippi’s largest employers, including Nissan Group of North America, Tyson Foods Inc., MGM Resorts International, and Toyota, have opposed the legislation, along with a host of other national companies, including IBM, General Electric and Hyatt Hotels.
Bryant is expected to decide later this week whether to veto the bill or sign it into law.