The Republican-dominated Mississippi Senate voted 31-17 on Wednesday evening to pass a religious freedom bill, which has been criticized as the most anti-LGBT legislation in the United States. The bill, known as House Bill 1523, will protect individuals who choose to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. In addition to protecting service refusal, the bill will also protect those who are opposed to recognizing the gender identity of transgender people.
Republicans have argued that the bill fixes the religious discrimination people of faith faced when the Supreme Court passed the marriage equality ruling last year. “It gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage,” Senator Jennifer Branning said. “I don’t think this bill is discriminatory. It takes no rights away.”
Senate Democrats wholeheartedly disagree, saying that the protections are too broad and specifically target the LGBT community in a wide range of settings. In an effort to oppose the bill, one Democrat proposed a motion to reconsider the measure, requiring another vote later in the week. “I have experienced discrimination, as many African Americans have,” Democratic Senator John Horhn said. “Can’t you see how this legislation might be seen as discriminatory?”
The passing of HB 1523 comes a week after anti-LGBT legislation passed in North Carolina and in the same week as Georgia’s Governor vetoed a religious protection bill after large corporations threatened to boycott the state.
Governor Phil Bryant, who will decide to either veto or allow the measure to become law told WLOX last week that he doesn’t think the bill is discriminatory. “I think it gives some people as I appreciate it, the right to be able to say, ‘That’s against my religious beliefs and I don’t need to carry out that particular task,” he said.
These “tasks” can range from anything including printing, jewelry, and wedding services, to the denial of employment. As long as the person was acting on “sincerely held” religious beliefs, they will not face any form of government retribution.
During the session, Sen. Horhn begged senators to reconsider.
“Why does this keep happening to Mississippi? They say it’s about same-sex marriage. If that’s the case, why does it include adoptions? Then why does it allow discrimination in medical services? The reason we are so adamantly opposed to it is because we have already been there. Ladies and gentleman, we don’t need to pass this legislation. We don’t need to put another stain on Mississippi.”
The bill passed in the Mississippi House in February, but the version approved by the Senate was altered slightly, and the House must agree with the changes. HB 1523 will be sent back to the House for a final concurrence, providing plenty of time to rally against the bill.