The Mississippi Senate voted Wednesday to pass a religious freedom bill, which many critics believe to be the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the United States.
The Republican-dominated Mississippi Senate voted 31-17 on Wednesday evening for House Bill 1523, which will effectively protect individuals who choose to deny products and services to same-sex couples and transgender individuals based on their religious beliefs.
“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 added, saying the bill instead protects the rights of Christians from facing government retribution. “It takes no rights away from anyone.”
Senate Democrats fiercely disagree, however, saying the protections are overly broad and specifically target LGBT people for discrimination in a wide range of settings. Immediately after the vote was cast, one Democrat proposed a motion to reconsider the measure, thereby requiring another vote later in the week, a move that is widely being considered a mere procedural formality.
Democratic Sen. John Horhn railed against the bill in the session, stating, “I have experienced discrimination, as many African Americans have—can’t you see how this legislation might be seen as discriminatory?”
The Mississippi vote comes a week after anti-LGBT legislation passed through both the North Carolina House and Senate and in the same week as Georgia’s Governor vetoed a similar religious protection bill under pressure from a large swath of powerful corporations.
In an interview with WLOX last week, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he finds no problem with the bill, believing that it “gives some people, as I appreciate it, the right to be able to say, ‘That’s against my religious beliefs and I don’t need to carry out that particular task.’”
These tasks, as put forth in the bill, could include anything from providing videography, disc-jockey, printing, jewelry and other wedding services to the outright denial of housing and employment, as long as the person was acting on “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
In addition to denying services to same-sex couples, the bill also protects those persons opposed to recognizing the gender identity of transgender people, in special concern to bathroom, locker room and dressing room access.
As with most of the language in the bill, the term “person” is defined broadly, including “sole proprietorship, or closely held company, partnership, association, organization, firm, corporation, cooperative, trust, society or other closely held entity.”
“It is very broad and very dangerous,” said Erik Fleming, the director of advocacy and policy for the ACLU of Mississippi.
“It basically sanctions religious discrimination.”
In the session, Sen. Horhn begged his fellow senators to consider their state’s turbulent and violent history.
“Why does this keep happening to Mississippi? Why do people keep thinking so badly of us?” he said.
“This is one of them,” he continued. “It’s House Bill 1523 before us. They say it’s about same-sex marriage. If that’s the case, why does it include adoptions? Then why does it allow discrimination in medical services? The reason we are so adamantly opposed to it is because we have already been there.”
“Ladies and gentleman, we don’t need to pass this legislation. We don’t need to put another stain on Mississippi.”
The bill passed the Mississippi House in February, but the Senate amended it with a clause that would restore sovereign immunity for the state under lawsuits. The newly-passed bill will be sent back to the House for a final concurrence before it is able to be enacted, which provides critics of the bill time to rally oppositional support.
The bill can be read in full, here.