Mississippi is one step closer to passing sweeping legislation that many state senators are billing as a protection of religious freedom. This anti-LGBT Mississippi bill might become law, so long as it makes it through the House once more and is signed by Gov. Phil Bryant. The Republican has been rumored to be penning his seal of approval as early as Thursday — just one day after the Mississippi Senate voted in favor of HB 1523 by a vote of 31-17.
As with similar religious freedom bills, the aim of HB 1523 is reportedly to protect those opposed to same-sex marriage. Addressing her colleagues following the vote in which she was in favor of the legislation, Mississippi Sen. Jennifer Branning had this to say about HB 1523:
It gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage. I don’t think this bill is discriminatory. It takes no rights away from anyone.
What Branning fails to acknowledge is just how far-reaching HB 1523 is, affecting not just religious organizations but ordinary Mississippi citizens. If passed, state employees' disparaging remarks about the LGBT community could potentially go unpunished so long as those statements are consistent with a "religious belief or moral conviction." Likewise, those unwilling to marry same-sex couples are under no legal obligation to do so under HB 1523, despite their unwillingness potentially impacting their ability to properly do their jobs.
Known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act, HB 1523 seeks to serve those who believe marriage is only real between a man and a woman and that those engaging in sexual activity must be doing so heterosexually. The bill also states that gender is a consistent trait "objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth." Such a caveat puts the transgender community at risk.
Mississippi Sen. John Horhn, who voted against the legislation, has been equally dumbfounded by its many caveats that extend far beyond potentially protecting a religious institution from carrying out a same-sex marriage that they are against. Horhn had this to say about a bill that could potentially put the state on the wrong side of history:
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 gentlemen, we don’t need to pass this legislation. We don’t need to put another stain on Mississippi.
Additional examples of the way that HB 1523 could potentially harm the LGBT community if passed include the fact that nearly anyone providing marriage-related services — from jewelers to DJs — can deny their services on the aforementioned grounds. It would almost be easier to list the ways the bill could positively impact LGBT citizens, as they are pretty much nonexistent compared to the overwhelming caveats allowing even medical professionals to deny their services.
HB 1523 has one more trip back to the state House where a conference for conciliation will be held. It's expected to overwhelmingly pass, as it previously had. The Mississippi house passed HB 1523 by a vote of 80-39 in February, and it appears that little will change that wide margin. From there, it's up to the governor. He may go the way of Georgia and Virginia, whose governors just recently vetoed similar legislation. Ultimately, HB 1523 appears to have just one man preventing or passing the bill into law and putting the state either on the wrong or the right side of history.