Mississippi Legislature passes 'license to discriminate' bill

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Gov. Phil Bryant.

A final so-called religious freedom bill passed both houses of the Mississippi legislature on April 1 and was sent to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group, described the legislation as "far-reaching" and urged a veto by the governor. The group and other LGBT civil rights advocates lobbied against the legislation and pushed for changes to the bill to minimize its scope.

HRC state legislative director Sarah Warbelow said, “While there were many efforts to correct the clearly problematic elements of this legislation, the bill still has the effect of making LGBT people strangers to the law. Before Mississippi has had the opportunity to robustly discuss the lived experiences of LGBT people, this bill would hollow out any non-discrimination protections at the local level or possible future state-wide protections. Just as we’ve seen in other states, this bill is bad for business, bad for the state’s reputation, and most of all, bad for Mississippians. Governor Bryant must veto the measure.”

Earlier this year, Arizona lawmakers passed similar legislation that was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer following outcry across the country, calls from national leaders in both political parties and threats of boycotts.

The Mississippi measure could, according to HRC,

• Undermine state and local non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals.

• Interfere with licensing organizations that have professional regulations protecting LGBT individuals.

• Undermine public university non-discrimination policies that include classes of people who lack federal protections.

• Allow pharmacists to refuse to provide HIV and hormone replacement therapy drugs.

• Permit restaurants, inns/hotels to potentially turn away same-sex couples celebrating an anniversary, adoption or pregnancy.

• Permit wedding garment shops, bakeries, photo studios, and reception halls to close their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.

Advocates of the legislation call it a religious freedom bill and claim that people should be able to claim the religious right to refuse service to others. Opponents of the legislation call the legislation a license to discriminate.