Mississippi Gov. Signs Controversial 'Religious Freedom' Bill Into Law | WBEZ
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Mississippi Governor Signs 'Religious Freedom' Bill Into Law

(Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed a controversial "religious freedom" bill into law.

The law, HB 1523, promises that the state government will not punish people who refuse to provide services to people because of a religious opposition to same-sex marriage, extramarital sex or transgender people.

Supporters say it protects the rights of people who are opposed to homosexuality but who now live in a country where same-sex marriage is a legal right.

Opponents say the bill amounts to a state sanction for open discrimination.

In a statement on Twitter, Bryant said he is signing the bill into law "to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions ... from discriminatory action by state government."

He said the new law "does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions" and does not challenge federal law.

"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," Bryant said.

The law is not a broad religious-protections law, such as many recent controversial state laws. As we reported last week, the Mississippi legislation protects only three beliefs or convictions: that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is "properly reserved to such a marriage," and that words like "male" and "female" are "objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth."

The law protects, among other things, state employees who refuse to license marriages, religious organizations who fire or discipline employees and individuals who decline to provide counseling or some medical services based on those oppositions.

Even without such a law, it is already legal in Mississippi — as in most states in the country — to discriminate against LGBT people in providing employment, housing and public accommodation.

The law's language also suggests protections for those who deny services based on an opposition to premarital sex; but similarly, it was already legal in Mississippi to deny an unmarried couple housing because of a moral objection.

Paul Boger of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports that Republican state representative Andy Gipson of Braxton, who introduced the bill, says the measure has been misrepresented.

"It specifically says that is a case where a person has a religious conviction, they can decline, but they must provide somebody in their office to provide that service," Gipson says. That requirement covers state employees declining to license or perform a marriage.

LGBT advocates in Mississippi had been calling for Bryant, a Republican, to veto the bill, as had members of the business community like the Mississippi Manufacturer's Association, Nissan North American and Tyson Foods.

The law goes into effect July 1.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia recently vetoed a religious liberties bill in his state, saying, "I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives."

In North Carolina, another controversial law — a "bathroom bill" mandating that all bathrooms at state facilities be separated by sex as assigned at birth, prohibiting local governments from creating their own anti-discrimination ordinances and also blocking cities and counties from raising their minimum wages — was introduced, passed and signed into law over the course of a single day last month.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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