The New Mississippi Bill Proves The Anti-LGBT & Anti-Choice Movements Have So Much In Common
On Thursday, the Mississippi Senate voted to approve one of the most severely anti-LGBT religious freedom bills. Titled "Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act," the legislation would potentially — among many disturbing possibilities — grant employers the right to fire workers simply because they are part of the LGBT community and impede foster or adoption arrangements due to a parent's sexual orientation or because they are trans. Some reports says county clerks would have legal protections to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they had "sincerely held" religious beliefs against gay marriage. The Mississippi House of Representatives already passed a very similar version of this bill last month and are expected to vote to approve this revised one early next week.
In the same vein as the infamous Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year, the Mississippi bill aims to protect employers, vendors, organization, and individuals from being held accountable for discriminating against members of the LGBT community. And like the Indiana legislation, the Mississippi counterpart masks this repugnant effort to sanction anti-LGBT views under the guise of freedom of religion. The big difference may be that Mississippi's is even more sweeping in the potential LGBT discrimination permitted by it. "This is probably the worst religious freedom bill to date,” Ben Needham, director of Project One America (which is part of the Human Rights Coalition), told BuzzFeed News.
Discrimination against trans people appears to be specifically protected under the Mississippi bill (formally numbered HB 1523), which states that:
The state government shall not take any discriminatory Action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that the person declines to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning...
There are also provisions in the bill meant to protect people from refusing to help or serve non-heterosexual couples and families, whether it's in trying to have a child or get married. The legislation states that Mississippi residents (and religious organizations and corporations) will not be punished by the state for "declin[ing] to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling, or fertility services based upon a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction." Also, the bill notes that people and companies that provide "photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing or similar marriage-related goods or services" who refuse to serve LGBT couples or families will not face government penalties.
Mississippi's bill comes just a week after North Carolina passed anti-LGBT bathroom legislation, and it was only a few days ago that, thankfully, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a "religious liberty" bill that would also have sanctioned discrimination against LGBT individuals as a First Amendment right. According to an article in The Atlantic from January of this year on anti-LGBT religious liberty legislation, "at least 26 states considered some sort of new religious-freedom-protection bill during the 2015 legislative session or will do so in 2016."
And this growing crop of state legislation — bills so often masked by innocuous titles that include "religious liberty" or "religious freedom" — are the new face of the anti-LGBT movement in America. Each new one is another reminder that the movement for LGBT rights has a long road ahead of it.
Even with the battle for same-sex marriage, there are increasing challenges. While marriage equality advocates may have briefly thought they could rest easy after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and guaranteed same-sex couples the right to wed in 2015, they are now realizing that is simply not the case. If states increasingly vote to protect clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, officials who refuse to perform weddings for same-sex couples, and reception halls and other businesses who refuse to house and serve same-sex couples, it is going to pretty difficult for same-sex couples actually exercise that right to wed.
Despite the fact that same-sex couples' right to wed was decisively affirmed by the highest court in the land, anti-LGBT bigots were not deterred. Instead, they have regrouped and revamped their attacks, as this new pattern of legislation shows.
In many ways, it mirrors the battle to stymie women's access to abortion. One would have thought that after 1973's Roe v. Wade and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it would be smooth sailing for the pro-choice movement. Au contraire. Instead, states passed legislation that put such onerous restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking the procedure that the legal right to have an abortion mattered less and less. If you have an increasingly shorter window of time to have an abortion combined with increasing restrictions you must meet before getting one and your closest provider could be hundreds of miles away, then you can't have an abortion, practically speaking.
These state-level attacks on LGBT rights and reproductive rights aim to put so many hurdles and pains in front of citizens that they are logistically prevented from exerting their Constitutional rights. They are sneaky, underhanded, and, unfortunately, potentially very successful.