The Republican-dominated Mississippi Senate voted 31-17 on Wednesday night for a religious freedom bill that critics believe is the the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the United States, allowing denial of products and services in a wide range of venues.
Immediately after the vote, a Democrat proposed a motion to reconsider — thereby requiring another vote later this week, which many consider a procedural formality, but could buy critics time to build opposition.
The bill already passed the House 80-39 in February. However, the Senate’s version was amended slightly, and the House must concur before the legislation can go to the governor.
Republicans, who hold a majority in both chambers, have argued the bill fixes problems created for people of faith by the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling.
“It gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage,” Sen. Jennifer Branning said in an address to her colleagues.
“I don’t think this bill is discriminatory,” she continued, saying the bill instead protects the rights of Christians from government retribution if they oppose same-sex couples getting married “It takes no rights away from anyone.”
But Democrats fiercely contend the bill is overly broad, specifically targeting LGBT people for discrimination in numerous settings, thereby inviting backlash that other states, including North Carolina, have faced for passing laws targeting LGBT people.
“This is probably the worst religious freedom bill to date,” Ben Needham, director of Project One America, an LGBT advocacy project in the Deep South run by the Human Rights Campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
Critics widely argue the bill would explicitly allow the denial of services, goods, wedding products, medical treatment, housing, and employment to LGBT people.
Specifically, House Bill 1523 would protect individuals, religious organizations, and certain businesses who take actions due to their religious objections to same-sex marriage. It would also protect those who object to transgender people. The bill says they could not face government retribution if they were acting based on “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
Further, it covers those who decline for reasons of faith to provide counseling services, foster care, and adoption services — even, apparently, those receiving government funding. Clerks who issue marriage licenses could also recuse themselves.
Again, as bad as NC's law is, removing specific protections at the local level for a statewide law that offers no protections at all for equality, Mississippi takes that and makes active discrimination state law enshrined and bring the power of the state to protect those who actively discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It's what both Indiana and Georgia tried to do. We'll see how far Mississippi gets with it.