A harmful Mississippi state law allowing the use of religion as a justification for discrimination against LGBTQ Mississippians at work, school and in their communities goes into effect October 10. H.B. 1523, deceptively titled the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” is by far the most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country.
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. H.B. 1523 would also legalize government employees to abdicate their duties by refusing to license or solemnize marriages of LGBTQ people.
H.B. 1523 was signed into law last year, but 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.
HRC is working with the ACLU of Mississippi, Campaign for Southern Equality, Freedom for All Americans, Lambda Legal, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Rising, and The Spectrum Center of Hattiesburg to limit the consequences of this hateful law.
We also stand proudly with LGBTQ Mississippians, as well as their friends, families and allies who are committed to fighting this law and ensuring everyone can live their lives free from fear of state-sanctioned discrimination.