Despite sharp criticism nationwide, Mississippi has enacted a "religious freedom" law that supporters say protects the rights of those who say they are guided by their religious convictions, but whose opponents say amounts to enabling of discrimination against LGBT people.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a controversial “act into law Tuesday, despite drawing calls to veto the bill. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Bryant signed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, saying he was protecting people who had “deeply held religious beliefs.”
On a conservative radio talk show, he later said the act prevents government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs … in matters of marriage." But also insisted the bill would not allow anyone to be discriminated against.
"This bill does not create one action against any class or group of people. It doesn't create a new action or a new defense of an action against those people," said Byrant.
As an example he said that a restaurant could not deny service to LGBT customers, but the act allows that business to tell an LGBT couple that they could not hold their wedding in the facility. That’s because in the text of the bill, it defines marriage as being between only a man and a woman and says that the state’s government would not take any discriminatory action against those who have chosen or declined to give “services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
Despite Bryant’s defense, LGBT advocates and opponents of the bill say it amounts to a loophole allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.
"Religion is being used for the most immoral purpose possible: the denigration of entire populations to second-class citizens based entirely on fear and propaganda," said Justin Nelson, president and co-founder of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in a statement." This is the most broadly discriminatory bill we’ve seen introduced, and should serve as a shocking reminder to anyone not yet convinced that the fight for equality in America continues long after marriage rights have been granted by the United States Supreme Court.”
Others in Mississippi itself says that the bill will not protect anyone from being discriminated against, but rather encourage discrimination.
“This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi in a statement on the group’s website. “Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame.”