2015 was a momentous year for the LGBT community and the long existing fight for gay rights.
But just when LGBT thought they took one step forward, many conservative states are working hard to try and push them 5 steps back.
Both states of North Carolina and Mississippi have recently released extremely harsh anti-gay bills that work to remove rights from those who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Many states have considered bills that enable discrimination against the LGBT community, but Mississippi’s proposed legislation is perhaps the most explicit in this regard. HB 1523 spells out in storied detail all of the different ways that a person should be able to mistreat people for being LGBT without consequences from the government.
The bill does not pretend to be neutral; it only protects people with anti-LGBT religious beliefs and nobody else:
The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
Assessing what kind of discriminatory situations this would enable is easy, because the bill spells those out as well. So long as individuals are motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” any of the following behaviors would have the endorsement of the government:
- Religious organizations can decline to solemnize any marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
- Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs.
- Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter.
- Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
- Any foster or adoptive parent can impose their religious beliefs on their children.
- Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counseling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.
- Any person (including any business) can choose not to provide services for any marriage ceremony or occasion that involves recognizing a marriage, including:
- Disc-Jockey Services
- Wedding Planning
- Floral Arrangements
- Dress Making
- Cake or Pastry Artistry
- Assembly-Hall or Other Wedding-Venue Rentals
- Limousine or Other Car-Service Rentals
- Jewelry Sales And Services
- Any person can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” and can manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.
- Any state employee can openly express their beliefs without consequence.
- Any state employee can choose not to authorize or license legal marriages by recusing themselves from those duties.
Protect Thy Neighbor, a project of Americans United for Separate of Church and State, outlines several hypotheticals for how this discrimination might play out — including impacts beyond the LGBT community. For example, an adoption agency could refuse to place a child with a family if the parents lived together before they were married. A counselor could refuse to help an LGBT teen who called a suicide hotline. A car rental agency could refuse to rent a car to a same-sex couple for use on their honeymoon. And a corporation could fire a woman for wearing pants (though this would likely still be illegal under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act).
Anybody who takes advantage of any of these opportunities to discriminate would be protected from any tax penalty, any loss of contract or grant, any loss of benefit, any fine or penalty, any license or certification, any custody award or agreement, or any setback in employment.
Furthermore, these protections extend even if the disagreement does not involve the government as a party. In other words, anybody can cite their religious beliefs to justify their discriminatory behavior if sued by the victims of that discrimination. When they do, they are entitled not only to victory in court, but compensatory damages as well.
Currently, no city in Mississippi has banned anti-LGBT discrimination under law, but several have at least passed resolutions opposing such discrimination, including Jackson, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Greenville, Magnolia, Oxford, and Hattiesburg. Should any of those cities ever pass enforceable laws, those laws would be voided by HB 1523, which preempts any municipal law that might conflict with it. All of the above forms of discrimination would become legal in the state no matter what laws a city passed.
This bill has already made significant progress through the Mississippi legislature. The House approved it last month by an 80-39 vote and the Senate is taking it up Wednesday.
The Mississippi Senate approved the bill Wednesday evening by a vote of 31-17. It now returns to the House for concurrence with an amendment.