It's a sad day for the Magnolia State, because there's a new law in effect that's every bit as awful as you could've feared. Governor Phil Bryant just made Mississippi a less safe place to live, signing the state legislature's controversial "religious freedom" bill, which has been heavily criticized for enabling discrimination against LGBT people. It's similar to the situation that North Carolina now finds itself in by virtue of a similar bill, which strips legal protections from LGBT residents, as well as specifically forces transgender people to use the wrong bathrooms. But the provisions of the Mississippi law are a bit different, and thus could have very different (yet still dire) consequences.
Whereas the controversial law in North Carolina was framed largely as a "common sense" argument, relying on ill-informed and discriminatory stereotypes about transgender people and a sense of societal tradition to sell itself, the Mississippi law is ostensibly about religious freedom. According to the specific language of House Bill 1523, it's intended to protect the "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" of Mississippians who believe the following:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
LGBT advocates fear that this law could be interpreted and implemented as to allow a wide range of discriminatory actions, beyond even the things it specifically lays out. As Mother Jones' Becca Andrews detailed last week, the bill will allow Mississippians to refuse to provide goods or services related to same-sex marriage, to block would-be LGBT parents from the adoption and foster care system, to commit housing discrimination on the basis of a potential renter's sexual identity or orientation, and the same for hiring and firing in the workplace.
In simple terms, Bryant signing HB 1523 has made life in his state tangibly worse for thousands of its citizens. The big question now is how LGBT advocates can apply pressure to try to turn this around. A number of businesses have already been proactive about the situation in North Carolina, threatening to pull their economic activity from the state until the law comes into line with their own corporate standards. PayPal, for example, halted plans for a $3 million investment in North Carolina on Tuesday morning.
It'll be interesting to see whether Mississippi gets hit with a similar reality check anytime soon. While it's admittedly somewhat problematic to economically punish everyone in a state for the actions of a legislature and governor, including the same people this new law will impact, it's also true that this is one of the seemingly rare instances in which corporate culture and social justice activism find themselves with overlapping goals, and it can potentially rattle a statehouse that might otherwise ignore the backlash.