Mississippi Governor Signs Bill Allowing Businesses To Refuse Service To LGBT Customers

Image courtesy of Great Beyond

The same day that PayPal took away potentially hundreds of jobs from North Carolina over a recently passed state bill targeting the rights of gay and transgendered people, the governor of Mississippi has signed off on a piece of legislation that goes even further, allowing a number of businesses to refuse service to customers based on their personal biases.

HB 1523 [PDF] allows “religious organizations” to refuse service to, hire, or provide non-emergency medical treatment to anyone who violates “sincerely held religious belief[s] or moral conviction” that “Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;” or that “Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage;” or that “Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

What critics of the bill find particularly troubling is that, while the bill uses the term “religious organization,” it covers a wide variety of non-religious activity, effectively opening up the door to many business-owners who wish to discriminate against LGBT customers with impunity.

In addition to exempting churches, doctors and therapists, adoption agencies and foster care services, the bill lists “Photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing or similar marriage-related goods or services; or Floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, assembly-hall or other wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewelry sales and services, or similar marriage-related services, accommodations, facilities or goods.”

The bill’s protection also extends to government officials, who can opt-out of doing the job that taxpayers are paying them to do.

“Any person employed or acting on behalf of the state government who has authority to authorize or license marriages, including, but not limited to, clerks, registers of deeds or their deputies, may seek recusal from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages,” reads the bill, which also covers judges and magistrates.

In a statement, Gov. Phil Bryant contends that this bill “does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizens of this state under federal or state laws… The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived.”

A number of businesses that operate in Mississippi — including Nissan, Toyota, Tyson Foods, and MGM International — have already voiced their opposition to the bill, which was passed by state lawmakers last week.

Yesterday, with Gov. Bryant still weighing his decision to sign the legislation, several large, national corporations — AT&T, IBM, Levi’s, and Mass Mutual — joined the state’s chamber of commerce and the Human Rights Campaign in calling on the governor to use his veto power.