Post submitted by Ianthe Metzger, former HRC Deputy Press Secretary
Today, HRC decried the decision by Mississippi lawmakers to move forward with H.B. 1523. Dubbed the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” this horrific legislation would allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Mississippians, in some of the most important aspect of their lives, including at work, at schools, in their family life and more. Lawmakers in the House Judiciary B Committee advanced the bill by a 14 - 3 vote earlier today.
“Quite simply, this bill is not about religion; it is about discrimination,” said HRC Mississippi State Director and former United Methodist pastor Rob Hill. “The reprehensible legislation advanced by House Judiciary B today will without a doubt have widespread, hurtful consequences not just for LGBT people and their families, but for the entire Magnolia State. Fair minded Mississippians have a duty to urge their elected officials to reject this shameful legislation and stop radical, discriminatory measures like H.B. 1523.”
Under H.B. 1523, religion could be used by most any individual or organization to justify discrimination against LGBT people, unwed mothers, veterans and others. Faith-based organizations could refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples; deny children in need of loving homes 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 submit an LGBTQ child to the dangerous 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,consistent with their gender identity. H.B. 1523 even legalizes Kim Davis-style discrimination by allowing government employees to abdicate their duties and refuse to license or solemnize marriages for LGBT people.
H.B 1523 is one of twelve discriminatory pieces of legislation under consideration in Mississippi this year. Other outrageous bills include S.B. 2822 and S.B. 2093. S.B. 2822 would amend the state’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to clarify that religious organizations, religious based adoption or foster agencies, and foster and adoptive parents could refuse equal treatment to LGBT people, and S.B. 2093 targets same-sex marriages by clarifying that religious leaders are not required to perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple whose union would violate their religious beliefs.
Despite the clear anti-LGBT agenda laid out by state lawmakers, 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 in 2016 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking over 160 anti-LGBT bills in 31 states. For more information, visit: www.hrc.org/2016legislature.
HRC’s Project One America is an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC Mississippi is working to advance equality for LGBT Mississippians who have no state level protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations. Through HRC Mississippi, we are working toward a future of fairness every day—changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.