A Mississippi law that makes it legal for religious people to discriminate against gay people comes into effect today.
The Republican-dominated state recently passed HB 1523, a broad law which grants Mississippians the ability to use so-called “religious exemptions” to legally deny LGBTQ people employment, housing, adoption rights, marriage licenses, and even services at a local business.
Despite protests from LGBT rights groups, the sweeping law was signed by the state’s Governor Phil Bryant, and comes into effect today.
Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, said: “America was founded on the freedom of religion and this shared value continues to be critical to our nation’s success, but it does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate.
“This law allows hotels, ER doctors, business owners, and even pediatricians to legally deny services to hardworking LGBTQ families in Mississippi, despite the fact that such blatant discrimination flies in the face of Mississippi and American values.
“The fight is far from over and we stand with advocates in Mississippi who simply want to be treated equal to their coworkers, friends, and neighbours.”
The law’s passage comes despite research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) which showed that a majority of Americans oppose anti-LGBTQ legislation.
The polling revealed that more than six in ten (61%) Americans oppose allowing small business owners to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people. Just three in ten (30%) Americans support their right to to do so.
Despite being advertised as a ‘religious freedom’ measure, there is not a single religious group in which a majority supports allowing small business owners to refuse services to gay and lesbian people.
62% of white mainline protestants oppose the laws, alongside 66% of black protestants, 52% of Hispanic protestants, and 62% of Catholics.
The law garnered more support among fringe religions, but even then only half (50%) of white evangelicals and and fewer than half of Mormons (42%) believed in the right to discriminate.
PRRI research director Dan Cox said: “At a time when Americans appear more divided than ever by partisanship and religion, there is increasing evidence that debates over gay rights have a short shelf life.”
But apparently things last longer in Mississippi.
GLAAD said: “Since the HB 1523 debate began, GLAAD has been on the ground in Mississippi working with local organizations like the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, the Spectrum Center, and Joshua Generation MCC to help accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people in the state and protect them from discrimination.
“From launching a #MyMississippi campaign, a campaign geared to amplify voices of LGBTQ Mississippians; releasing a media resource guide on LGBTQ people living in the state; to co-hosting a United Against Hate rally against HB 1523 last December; GLAAD has been with LGBTQ Mississippians to fight back against this discriminatory ‘religious exemptions’ agenda and will continue to complement and amplify their efforts.”
HB 1523 was passed in 2016, but was put on hold amid a legal challenge.
However, after the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed the challenge, the injunction against the law was lifted.
A number of states launched a boycott of Mississippi over the law.
California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, have all launched travel bans barring government employees from non-essential publicly funded travel to Mississippi.
Lambda Legal today urged the Supreme Court to intervene.
Mississippi plaintiffs led by civil rights attorney Rob McDuff, along with Mississippi Center for Justice and Lambda Legal, urged the court to block the bill.
Joining in the appeal to the Supreme Court are former U.S. Solicitor General Don Verrilli and attorney Paul Smith, who co-counseled with Lambda Legal and argued the landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas, which declared laws criminalizing same-sex relationships to be unconstitutional.
The petition seeks a nationwide ruling on the standing of individuals to challenge state laws that permit and fuel anti-LGBT discrimination on religious grounds.
“Just like the antigay constitutional amendments enacted in states after Lambda Legal’s victory in Lawrence v. Texas striking down sodomy laws, statutes like Mississippi’s HB 1523 are springing up across the country to defy the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling for marriage equality,” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation and associate legal director at Lambda Legal.
“The Supreme Court again needs to safeguard equality for LGBT Mississippians and LGBT people across the country who are experiencing another dangerous attack on their rights. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review and that its ruling will shut down other anti-LGBT state lawmakers emboldened not only by the wave of discriminatory laws like HB 1523, but also by an administration in Washington rolling back LGBT civil rights and providing a roadmap to discriminate.”
“We are asking the Supreme Court to review this case because it is unfair and unconstitutional. These laws are wolves in sheep’s clothing—it is LGBT discrimination disguised as religious freedom. By promoting discrimination in the name of religion, HB 1523 violates both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments,” said Mississippi civil rights attorney Rob McDuff.
“Standing is not about who wins and who loses, but who has access to justice. HB1523 goes into effect today, but our clients have been experiencing the ill effects of the law since it passed.,” said Beth Orlansky, advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.
“The Fifth Circuit’s decision is out of step with decisions in many other circuits and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review and provide clarity on this issue.”
Donald Trump has previously signed a pledge supporting the so-called First Amendment Defence Act, a similar federal law which bans the government from taking any “action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
He claimed last year: “Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
“It is our first liberty and provides the most important protection in that it protects our right of conscience. Activist judges and executive orders issued by Presidents who have no regard for the Constitution have put these protections in jeopardy.
“If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions worked this week to implement an anti-LGBT directive.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, recently released several new videos as part of the #LoveYourNeighbor campaign, a storytelling project focused on sharing the experiences of LGBTQ people and allies across the South, particularly in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.
In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.
The #LoveYourNeighbor campaign is partially funded with a grant from Toyota, which has a manufacturing plant in Mississippi.
Ben Needham, director of Project One America, said: “Through HRC’s work in the South, we have found that the most effective way to change hearts and minds is simply to share the stories of our LGBTQ friends and neighbors.
“With #LoveYourNeighbor, we take the stories of LGBTQ people living in the South and share them with a broad audience — many of whom may not have had an opportunity previously to hear these powerful accounts.”