SIREN: Today, Mississippi Senate to Vote on Appalling Anti-LGBT Legislation

by Ianthe Metzger

Bill would allow businesses to discriminate by denying service to LGBT people, as well as explicitly sanction discrimination by taxpayer-funded religious organizations

JACKSON - Today, the Mississippi Senate is scheduled to vote on 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, and more. The measure has already been approved by theState House of Representatives and would advance to the Governor's desk if passed out of the Senate. Today’s vote comes as legislatures in Georgia and North Carolina have faced a tremendous backlash for voting in favor of legislation that would put the LGBT community at risk of discrimination.

“This legislation moves Mississippi backward, undermining equality for its residents and jeopardizing its ability to attract and retain fair-minded businesses,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Governor Byrant should be paying close attention to the backlash against discrimination in Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a terrible anti-LGBT bill, and in North Carolina, where fair-minded people and the broader business community are calling on state leaders to repudiate and repeal the discriminatory law passed last week. Mississippi’s economy and its reputation hang in the balance.”

Earlier this week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, announced his decision to veto H.B.757 -- a deeply discriminatory bill that sailed through the State Legislature. The legislation, which sparked a massive backlash of opposition from a broad array of civil rights groups, leaders in Hollywood, and corporate America, could have weakened local non-discrimination protections, allowed businesses to discriminate by denying service to LGBT people, and explicitly empowered discrimination by religious organizations. North Carolina is currently facing intense criticism for the passage of HB 2, a horrific anti-LGBT law that eliminates existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and prevents such protections from being passed by cities in the future. The law, which was passed in a one-day hurried special session, is also the first of its kind to force transgender students in public schools to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity -- a provision that put 4.5 billion dollars in federal funding under Title IX at risk. Yesterday, over 80 CEOs and business leaders signed a letter calling for the repeal of HB 2.

“The freedom to practice one’s religion is a core American value, firmly protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Mississippi’s H.B. 1523 however is extreme legislation that goes far beyond that fundamental right,” said HRC Mississippi State Director and former United Methodist pastor Rob Hill. “Fair-minded Mississippians must not be fooled by lawmakers’ disgraceful attempts to mask discrimination against LGBT people and their families with religious freedom. We call on the Senate and the Governor to put a stop to this attack on fairness and equality.”

Under H.B. 1523, religion could be used by most any individual or organization to justify discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, unwed couples and others.  Tax-payer 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 LGBT families including the child’s own family member; 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 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 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 -- all in conflict with the United States Department of Justice’s enforcement of federal law. 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.

The measure comes to the Mississippi Senate today after passing the House by 80-39 vote last month. 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 nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. As of today, at least half of these bills have been beaten back around the country. For more information,

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, workplaces, 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.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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