Unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear an appeal before Tuesday, Oct. 10, Mississippi’s new law that protects the “moral conviction” of people who uphold marriage as being between one man and one woman will take effect.
As it is defined, the law (HB 1523) provides “broad protection of free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions,” and would shield people in government and the private sector from having to engage in or facilitate transactions they view as immoral, such as catering for gay marriages, renting rooms to gay couples, or assisting homosexuals to adopt children.
LGBT activists and the legal groups representing them oppose the new law, saying it violates the rights of homosexuals, favoring one group over another group. Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant, signed the bill into law in April 2016.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. (vallartadaily.com)
Although the law was challenged in the courts since then, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June 2017 that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the law. Last week, the 5th Circuit refused to re-hear the claim by the LGBT activists and their lawyers, represented by the Campaign for Southern Equality. The attorneys are now appealing to the Supreme Court for relief. (As this story went to press, the high court had not responded.
On Wednesday, Gov. Bryant in a statement said, “This law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional. The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The law is officially entitled the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” It is designed to protect from discrimination or prosecution Mississippi citizens who have “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” These beliefs are defined as follows: “Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman”; “Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage”; and, “Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
The law then lists myriad situations in which people who hold those moral convictions would be protected from discrimination or penalty. These include “religious organizations” that decline to solemnize a marriage that violates their beliefs; hire or fire employees who violate their beliefs; sell or rent a dwelling or house to people that violate their beliefs; or provide or facilitate adoption or foster care to people that violate their religious convictions.
The law also protects persons who do not want to participate in or facilitate the adoption of children in a way that violates their beliefs, or in any way assist with sex-reassignment counseling, treatment or surgery.
The gay rainbow flag is displayed outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (nbcnews.com)
The law further protects those people who do not want to assist in any way with a wedding that violates their convictions. This applies, for instance, to “photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing … floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewelry sales and services, or similar marriage-related services, accomodations, facilities or goods.”
Mississippi state employees who issue mariage licenses are also protected; they can recuse themselves if the license violates their beliefs. The “recusal” option applies to clerks, registers of deeds, as well as judges, magistrates, justices of the peace and their deputies.
“HB1523 is the nation’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ law,” states the Campaign for Southern Equality on its website. “It will bring undeniable damage to the lives of thousands of Mississippians, paving the way for deep harm and discrimination. As a community, we will fight this law every step of the way.”
“We stand proudly with LGBTQ Mississippians in working to ensure that everyone can live their lives free from fear of state-sanctioned discrimination,” said the group. “We stand ready to challenge discrimination in all forms and will bring lawsuits against those who discriminate against their LGBTQ neighbors and fellow Mississippian s.”
The Campaign for Souther Equality has established a telephone number and e-mail address for LGBT people to report discrimiantion, if it occurs.
Commenting on the law, Mississippi’s Lt. Gov Tate Reeves said it “simply protected Mississippians from government interference when practicing their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Kevin Theriot, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Gov. Bryant in the case, said the law ensures that “Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union. Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed, but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on other by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like htis one.”
Rob Hill, the Mississippi director for the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign, as reported by the Clarion-Ledger in June, said the law is “rooted in hate” and that lawmakers in 30 states “have introdcued 121 anti-LGBTQ bills.”