ANTI-DISCRIMINATION RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL BECOMES LAW
Rep. Andy Gipson

The much-publicized House Bill 1523 became law when signed by Gov. Bryant on April 5, 2016. Even before Gov. Bryant signed the bill, a consortium of gay-rights lobbyists, Hollywood’s rich and famous, national media talking heads and big money interests cleverly created a false narrative about the bill. The claims that HB 1523 is discriminatory are patently false, and the unreasonable PR campaign against Mississippi for passing this bill demonstrates exactly why the law is needed.

Prior to the June 2015 Obergefell decision by the United States Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, same-sex marriage was not permitted under Mississippi law nor the laws of a majority of states. After Obergefell, many people and groups in Mississippi, including pastors, churches, nonprofit organizations, private schools, religious healthcare entities, adoption agencies, and public officials and employees, all faced questions of how to resolve legal conflicts between the longstanding right to believe and live out their faith, and the new-found right of same-sex marriage. This question was actually raised by the Obergefell Court, and the U.S. Solicitor General for the Obama administration noted that states would be obliged to find a proper balance between these competing rights.

The need to work out this balance, while new to Mississippi, is not new in other states. In recent years, nearly 20 states have adopted religious marriage solemnization or celebration protections in relation to the issue of same-sex marriage. For example, the states of New York (2011), Vermont (2009), and Minnesota (2013) each passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage. At the same time, however, they recognized religious exemptions aimed at protecting people and organizations who hold sincere religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage. A complete list of states with similar conscience protection laws is available at the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New York’s June 14, 2011 “Marriage Equality Act” included a provision that benevolent or religious corporations, and educational religious organizations “shall not be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” The Vermont law, found at Sec. 11. 9 V.S.A. § 4502, provides that “a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with this subsection shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.” Minnesota passed a similar law in 2013.

Each of these laws is similar in concept to House Bill 1523. Yet, in the wake of the PR campaign against Mississippi, each of the states of New York, Vermont, and Minnesota have taken steps to ban official state travel to the Magnolia State. One wonders if they have even read the Mississippi law — or even their own state laws protecting conscientious objectors to same-sex marriage from government sanctioned discrimination.

It’s past time for everyone to take a deep breath, step back and actually read the language of House Bill 1523. It is a reasonable bill, aimed at protecting citizens’ rights of religious freedom without discriminating against anyone. The new Mississippi law provides that the state government, including any local government or state agency, cannot take any discriminatory action against a person or religious organization who solemnizes or declines to solemnize any marriage, or provides or declines to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction. The Mississippi law extends these anti-discrimination protections to public officials such as circuit clerks and judges, as well as to vendors who hold sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage.

This law guarantees fundamental religious freedom protections for all Mississippians who believe in traditional marriage. The law recognizes same-sex marriage is the federal law of the land, at the same time providing a legal means to resolve conflicts that may arise in our State between religious freedom and same-sex marriage. Laws like this are being considered and passed in many other states, just as they have already passed in other states. But don’t take my word for it – read the bill for yourself.

Rep. Andy Gipson