“Turn Away the Gays” bill comes to Mississippi

A gay couple kisses on the steps of the state Capitol building as Mississippians rally in support of marriage equality amidst the U.S. Supreme Court's historic DOMA hearings on March 26, 2013. / Photo by Ashton PittmanA gay couple kisses on the steps of the state Capitol building as Mississippians rally in support of marriage equality amidst the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic DOMA hearings on March 26, 2013. / Photo by Ashton Pittman

Mississippi may soon pass its own version of the discriminatory “Turn Away the Gays” bill that caused a nationwide backlash after it passed in Arizona last week.

The so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or SB 2681, would require that “state action shall not burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion”  by compelling “any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.” The bill defines “exercise of religion” to mean “the ability to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

In practice, that would mean that a business could legally discriminate against LGBT people if it claims that such discrimination is motivated by their “sincerely held religious belief.” A baker, for example, might refuse to provide services to a gay couple requesting a wedding cake. This bill would affirm and codify the legitimacy of such discrimination in Mississippi state law.  

SB 2681, which passed the state Senate with 48 yes-votes, zero no-votes, and four senators absent (Brown, Clark, McDaniel, and Sojourner), is now en route to a vote in the House. If passed, it would go into effect July 1, 2014.

The bill, whose Arizona cousin has been dubbed “Gay Jim Crow” by a Fox News analyst, would also amend the state seal to include “In God We Trust.”

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