Time to add another state to the list of places unsafe for LGBTQ people to visit.
Marilyn Drew Necci | October 5, 2017
Mississippi HB 1523, “The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” has outlasted the constitutional challenges it has faced since being signed by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant in 2016. It becomes law tomorrow.
This is after the Fifth Circuit Court Of Appeals refused to rehear the case originally filed by the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) in 2016, shortly after the bill was passed. The suit was originally settled in favor of CSE by District Court Judge Carlton Reeves. However, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court felt that CSE lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. This paved the way for the law to go into effect.
HB 1523 allows businesses to refuse service to customers based on religious beliefs, specifically the beliefs that “Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage, and male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
Its provisions specifically list the right to deny housing to LGBTQ couples and transgender people, the right of an employer to decide “whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization,” and the inability of the state to prosecute anyone who “declines to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning or declines to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling or fertility services,” among other things.
The CSE’s challenge was based on the idea that the bill violates the First Amendment by favorite certain religions over others. A ruling that the CSE lacks standing to bring the case is likely rooted in a lack of legalized discrimination against a specific person, as justified under the rules of HB 1523. Basically, Mississippi will need a Gavin Grimm figure who has specifically been refused housing, medical treatment, or employment due to HB 1523 being the law of the land. It’s a depressing reality that the law must be allowed to take effect before such an example can be brought before the court.
For now, Governor Bryant defends the bill’s constitutionality. “The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Bryant said in a statement released Sunday. The rights of those in the LGBTQ spectrum to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for existing were not covered in the statement.
This law has been responsible for widespread condemnation by other state and local governments elsewhere in the country. Currently, five US states and the District Of Columbia, as well as four counties and 22 cities, prohibit publicly funded travel to Mississippi–a tactic also used towards North Carolina during the height of the HB 2 controversy. Of course, as we know, HB 2′s eventual repeal was nothing more than a veiled attempt to more subtly retain anti-LGBTQ discrimination within North Carolina’s state laws–and thus far, the HB 142 “compromise” bill has been successful in its quest to do exactly that. So we’ll see how effective this response to Mississippi’s legally codified right to discriminate will be.
An interesting wrinkle to this case is that the Governor’s son, Patrick Bryant, is widely rumored to be gay, and was reportedly assaulted in a Hattiesburg, Mississippi bar in 2012 after he was asked if he was “Phil Bryant’s faggot gay son,” according to a disturbing 2016 report from the Washington Blade. Patrick Bryant now makes his home in Austin, Texas, reportedly at least in part because the governor feared political blowback from him being outed. “[Bryant] knew that if Patrick stayed, he knew eventually everyone would realize Patrick’s gay and it would come out during an election and someone would try to use it against him politically,” an unnamed source told the Blade.
Regardless of the way this law may or may not affect members of Governor Bryant’s immediate family, though, it will still go into effect tomorrow. Roberta Kaplan, CSE’s lead lawyer, vowed to continue the fight, saying she’d do “everything humanly possible to continue to fight this harmful law on the merits,” while CSE director Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara stated, “HB 1523 is a reckless law that discriminates against and hurts the LGBT community. We have fought this from day one and will continue to do so with every tool available to us.” For now, though, you might not want to plan any trips to Mississippi.