Following the passage of Mississippi House Bill 1523, groups on both sides of the political isle have come out in support of or opposition to the bill.
The bill, which will go into effect July 1, states that the government cannot take action against religious organizations, government employees, medical professionals, foster and adoptive parents or business owners who refuse to do business that would cause them to compromise religious beliefs that members of the same sex should not get married or that gender is determined at birth by biological factors.
The bill’s passage caused outcry among many in the state and the nation, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. The ACLU released a statement saying, “Mississippi … has the dubious distinction of being the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBTQ community do not matter.”
Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said the law does not go as far as critics claim. He said misinformation about the bill is leading many people into thinking it creates issues that don’t exist.
“One example is that circuit clerk provision where it says circuit clerks can seek recusal from signing a marriage license,” Thigpen said. “The condition of that recusal is they shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the marriage license is issued without impediment or delay. That means the license must be issued by that office one way or the other.”
Similarly, he said provisions about employment and housing only apply to religious organizations, and not private businesses.
Thigpen said HB 1523 seeks to provide protections for people’s right to freedom of religion where that right comes in conflict with others’ constitutional right to marry.
He compared it to states creating laws to make accommodations for doctors’ moral convictions after Roe v Wade.
“If a same-sex couple is not served, they are still able to exercise their right to marry,” Thigpen said. “If a person who has religious beliefs about marriage that would keep them from participating in what they consider to be a worship service — if they are forced to participate, they don’t get to exercise their freedom of religion.”
Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of ACLU of Mississippi, said it would not protect anyone from government discrimination and that it would instead serve as the state’s “badge of shame.”
“This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are,” she said. “This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty.”
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