Phil Bryant, the far-right Republican governor of Mississippi, announced yesterday that he will sign SB 2681, a so-called "religious freedom" bill that would in fact give people and businesses carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT people and anyone else they wished to, as long as they claim they're doing so for religious reasons. Republicans in the Mississippi House and Senate rammed the deceptively-named Religious Freedom Restoration Act through both bodies on Tuesday night.
Just to throw out some extra red meat to conservatives in this blood-red state (and give lawmakers additional cover to vote for the bill), SB 2681 also contains a provision adding "In God We Trust" to the Mississippi state seal. And sure enough, it worked: Governor Bryant said he will be "proud" to sign the bill for that reason, conveniently omitting the fact that the measure will also further marginalize minority groups in the state.
The Arizona-style law will have the likely effect of undermining or even blocking future efforts to pass local LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination statutes, as it specifically covers "any municipal or county ordinances, rules or regulations and the implementation of those laws," regardless of whether they were enacted before or after the law's enactment.
It could also allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense HIV medication, contraception, or hormone replacement therapy; permit businesses like restaurants, hotels, bakeries, photographers, reception halls, and formalwear stores to turn away same-sex couples; and undercut nondiscrimination policies at public universities.
Rea Carey of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund responded in a statement:
"We are very disappointed that Mississippi lawmakers have passed this 'license to discriminate' legislation and with Governor Bryant's decision to sign this bill. This new law both cynically uses religion as a smokescreen to justify discrimination and insults people of faith who feel that discrimination is morally wrong. When he signs this bill, businesses in the state of Mississippi could turn away people who are (or are thought to be) lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Most Americans are against discrimination and will be appalled by this new law. The governor decision's sends a clear and extreme message to the country and the world that LGBT people and our straight allies are not welcome in Mississippi."
Equality-minded Mississippians are rallying today at noon Central Time on the lawn of the State Capitol in Jackson to protest the law, and a candlelight vigil is planned for this evening. Groups participating in today's events include the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Mississippi, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center.