Today, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for anti-LGBTQ H.B. 1523 to become law in Mississippi, making it the worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S. The law, deceptively titled the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” enables almost any individual or organization to use religion as a justification to discriminate against LGBTQ Mississippians at work, at school and in their communities.
“We are deeply disappointed that the actions taken today by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals clear the path for the anti-LGBTQ law H.B. 1523 to take effect in Mississippi,” said Rob Hill, HRC Mississippi state director. “This law -- now the most discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ state law in the country -- was rooted in hate, it targets the LGBTQ community and it is a deliberate attempt to undermine marriage equality and the dignity of LGBTQ Mississippians who lawmakers have sworn to serve and protect. We will continue to fight tooth and nail against H.B. 1523 until it no longer threatens our community.”
Under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others. Taxpayer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBTQ families including the child’s own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBTQ person -- even if the organization receives government funding. It would also give foster families the freedom to subject an LGBTQ child to the dangerous practice of “conversion therapy,” and subject a pregnant unwed girl to abuse, 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 LGBTQ people or single mothers.
Furthermore, schools, employers, and service providers could refuse transgender people access to appropriate sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. HB 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 had never gone into effect, as it was blocked by a federal district court shortly before its effective date and has been suspended since. A conservative three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard arguments in April regarding H.B. 1523’s fate, with Robbie Kaplan, the litigator who took on the discriminatory federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing against the law. Kaplan spoke passionately about why this law is unconstitutional, and why it should be struck down.
Last year, more than 75 leading CEOs and business leaders urged Governor Phil Bryant to repeal the deeply discriminatory law. Mayors and governors across the country banned travel to the state, while musicians and entertainers cancelled movie shoots, concerts and shows. The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office even warned its LGBTQ citizens of the risks of traveling to Mississippi.