Post submitted by Ianthe Metzger, former HRC Deputy Press Secretary
Today, HRC Mississippi blasted the state House of Representatives for advancing H.B. 1523. Sponsored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, this vile piece of legislation will allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against LGBT Mississippians, in some of the most important aspect of their lives, including at work, at schools, in their family life and more. The bill was passed by a vote of 80-39, and now heads to the Senate.
“It is inconceivable that lawmakers in the Magnolia State are willing to advance legislation that will knowingly put some of Mississippi's most vulnerable people at risk,” said HRC Mississippi State Director and former United Methodist pastor Rob Hill. “These shameful attacks on LGBT people and their families have no place in our state, and they fundamentally undermine the values that so many of us hold dear. We hope the State Senate will reject H.B. 1523 and stand on the side of fairness and equality for all.”
Under H.B. 1523, religion could be used by most any individual or organization to justify discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, and veterans, among others. Faith-based organizations could refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBT families; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBT person -- even if the organization receives government funding. As introduced, H.B. 1523 would also give foster families the freedom to expose an LGBTQ child to the dangerous, abusive practice of “conversion therapy,” and shame a pregnant unwed girl, without fear of government intervention or license suspension. It would even allow individuals to refuse to carry out the terms of a state contract for the provision of counseling services to all eligible individuals--including veterans--based on the counselor's beliefs about LGBT people or single mothers.
Furthermore, schools, employers and service providers could implement sex-specific dress and grooming standards, as well as refuse transgender people access to the appropriate sex-segregated facilities, that are consistent with their gender identity. H.B. 1523 even legalizes Kim Davis-like discrimination by allowing government employees to abdicate their duties and refuse to license or solemnize marriages for LGBT people.
Despite this discriminatory bill, two pro-equality bills have also been introduced this legislative session. S.B. 2738 and H.B 624 would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics under the Mississippi Civil Rights Act of 1964. The attacks on fairness and equality in Mississippi are part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being pushed this year by anti-equality activists across the country. HRC is currently tracking over 160 anti-LGBT bills in 31 states. For more information, visit: www.hrc.org/2016legislature.