But Mississippi didn’t dream up HB 1523 and its sweeping discrimination on its own. It’s modeled on a federal bill that was first introduced in 2013. The federal bill, the deceptively named First Amendment Defense Act, is equally troubling.
This bill, aimed at permitting discrimination against same-sex couples, also sanctions discrimination against unmarried couples, married couples in which one person had been married before, single mothers, and individuals who have had sex outside of marriage.
Under this bill, we could see claims like this:
- An employee at the IRS could refuse to process the joint tax return of a same-sex couple, or an employee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could refuse to help an unmarried couple who lost their home in a natural disaster.
- A homeless shelter or food bank that receives federal money could refuse to serve a same-sex couple or single mother in need.
- A landlord could refuse to rent to an unmarried couple or a single mother. Or a business could deny gay and lesbian employees family and medical leave to care for a sick spouse.
It’s no surprise that in the past three years, Congress has never even held a hearing on this controversial legislation. Until now, that is. Apparently, leadership in the House of Representatives intends to hold a hearing on this bill on July 12.
It’s an inauspicious date to be sure. Congress will hear a bill that will harm LGBT individuals on the one-month anniversary of the tragic shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando.
But it also seems foolhardy to hold a hearing on legislation that a judge just said was unconstitutional. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value and guarantees us the freedom to worship – or not – as we see fit. What it does not do, though, is grant anyone a right to harm others. Mississippi’s law, HB 1523, clearly violated this principle, and last night a federal judge unambiguously said so. Just like HB 1523, the First Amendment Defense Act also would “not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of [our] citizens.”
We are weighing in with House leadership to tell them what a bad bill this is. You can too—they need to hear from you.