Mississippi’s HB 1523 has been called the most vehemently anti-LGBT law in the country, and with good reason: Signed by Governor Phil Bryant in April 2016, just days after North Carolina passed HB2, it allows businesses, churches, and individuals to openly discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The deceptively named “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act” was struck down by a district court in July 2017, minutes before it was set to become law. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote the law “put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others.”
In his ruling,Judge Reeves added that the law “violates both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws,”
But advocates appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and, in June 2017, HB 1523 officially became law. “We are pleased to see that it is now in effect [because] the whole objective was to protect religious freedoms,” House Speaker Phil Gunn, who authored HB 1523, said at the time. Since then, opponents have been trying to appeal the circuit court decision, but this week the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to HB 1523.
“This latest punt on LGBTQ rights by the nation’s highest court promotes state-stationed discrimination by upholding a law that allows hotels, ER doctors, business owners, and even pediatricians to legally deny services to hardworking LGBTQ families in Mississippi,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “While freedom of religion is a fundamental right, it should never give people the right to impose their belief on others and openly discriminate against others in the name of religious exemptions.”
As it stands now, LGBT Mississippians are second-class citizens, vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing, adoption rights, health care, marriage licenses, and even receiving basic public services. But it also put unwed couples, single mothers, Muslims, atheists and other groups in its crosshairs.
Among its provisions:
Any organization can decline “to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration or recognition of any marriage.”
Employers can make a “decision whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization.”
Mississippians can deny housing based on religious beliefs.
Foster-care organizations and adoption agencies can “decline to provide any adoption or foster care service” without fear of retribution.
The state can’t prosecute anyone who “declines to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender-identity transitioning or declines to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling or fertility services” or any wedding- or marriage-related services.
Schools and business owners can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings.”
“This law—now the most discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ state law in the country—was rooted in hate,” said Rob Hill, state director of HRC Mississippi, in 2017. “It targets the LGBTQ community and it is a deliberate attempt to undermine marriage equality and the dignity of LGBTQ Mississippians who lawmakers have sworn to serve and protect.”
Ironically polls continually show most Christians oppose religious freedom laws: Less than half of evangelicals believe small businesses should be able to deny services on the basis of religious beliefs.