On Wednesday, a Mississippi Senate Committee approved HB 1523, the misleadingly named “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” The state House has already passed the bill and the Senate will likely vote on it very soon. The goal of HB 1523 is to allow discrimination against LGBT couples. But its reach goes much further.
Click the graphic to tell your senator to oppose HB 1523.
HB 1523 would allow state employees, corporations, individuals, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations to use religion as a justification to discriminate against nearly everyone—same sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage. And considering a 2006 study showed that nearly 95% of Americans have had sex outside marriage, that’s most people who live, work, or visit Mississippi.
The bill would also allow government clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses and judges to refuse to solemnize weddings if they have religious objections to a couple’s marriage. Government officials, funded with taxpayer dollars, should not be allowed to pick and choose which of their duties they want to fulfill or which services they will provide and to whom. Nor should government employees be allowed to impose their personal religious beliefs on those whom they serve. This is blatant discrimination and is patently unfair.
In case you aren’t already convinced that this bill is terrible, here are a few things that could happen if this bill were to pass:
- a government clerk could refuse to issue a marriage license to a couple because one person had been previously divorced;
- a taxpayer-funded adoption agency could refuse to place a child with a happy and loving family because the parents lived together before they were married;
- a taxpayer-funded organization that provides shelter to kids who have suffered child abuse could turn away a pregnant teenager;
- a counseling group practice could refuse to see a mother and her teen who is experiencing severe depression because the woman is unmarried;
- a counselor could refuse to help an LGBT person who called a suicide hotline;
- a fertility clinic could refuse to treat a veteran and his partner because they are not married;
- a car rental agency could refuse to rent a car to a same-sex couple on their honeymoon; and
- a corporation could fire a woman for wearing pants.*
Does that sound far-fetched? We wish it were. Unfortunately, this bill would allow all of these discriminatory actions. And in each of these examples, real people would suffer real harm.
At this point, I hope you are asking what you can do to stop this bill. The bill has already passed the House and if the Senate adopts the bill, it will move to the Governor’s desk. If you live in Mississippi, you can contact your Senator and tell them to oppose the bill. If you don’t you can spread the word that Mississippi should reject this bill raising a national outcry, just like last year in Indiana and this year in Georgia. Mississippi boasts that it offers the South’s warmest welcome, but if this bill is enacted, tourists, conventions, and businesses (and the money and jobs they bring) could instead be running away.
*Update: Although it’s true that the federal Civil Rights Act bans that type of discrimination, the Mississippi bill would at best create massive confusion about what is and isn’t allowed, and at worst induce employers to engage in sex discrimination that violates federal law. More generally, the argument “don’t worry, some of the discrimination that we are authorizing is banned by other laws” is hardly a ringing endorsement for the bill.