“To prevent prosecution”
Just days after a federal judge handed down a decision that overturned the ban on adoptions for same-sex couples in Mississippi, the Governor signed HB 1523 in law. This bill allows private businesses, religious organizations, and government employees to deny services to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs. Proponents of the bill state that it was necessary to prevent prosecution, but critics argue that it will make it easier to discriminate against the LGBT community.
What’s in the bill?
According to Governor Phil Bryant the bill simply prevents government interference when people of faith exercise their religious beliefs when it comes to marriage. HB 1523 does not let a private business refuse normal services to individual who are LGBT. What it does is deny services in the performing of a wedding ceremony.
But the bill does go on to say that services can be denied in the celebration or recognition of any marriage based on religious belief or moral conviction. This includes all types of celebrations related to marriage, including anniversaries and engagement parties.
In addition, HB 1523 allows government employees to sidestep their duties when it comes to serving the LGBT community. They do have to allow another staff member to provide services. Schools and business owners now have the right to establish policies concerning student and employee dress and grooming, by sex-specific standards. Doctors can deny fertility services to same-sex couples. Gay couples can now be denied housing, if it is against the landlord’s religious beliefs. To be fair, straight couples who are unmarried could also be denied housing based on religious beliefs.
Concerns about the law
The ACLU is against the bill, believing that it could allow homeless shelters and healthcare facilities to turn away single mothers, transgendered people, and same-sex couples. The former Governor Ronnie Musgrove stated, “The more I read the Constitution, the clearer it became that you just can’t deny rights to a specific class of people just because some are uncomfortable with what they do not understand.” The Family Research Policy stands behind the Governor in signing the bill, but Nissan, a key manufacturer in Miss. opposes it. The Mississippi Manufacturers Assn. was much more neutral, stating that there is concern about the bill and its potential to “conflict with…policies of diversity and inclusion. However, the MMA respects the wishes of the legislature and Governor.”
Although HB 1523 specifically is geared towards the activities surrounding marriage, once you’re married, it permeates your entire life. This bill is set to go into effect July 1, 2016. It’s hopeful that it will be quickly challenged in the courts to determine its Constitutionality.