An appeals court has refused to rehear a lawsuit against Mississippi House Bill 1523, which codifies discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds.
Pending a successful last-minute challenge, the measure will take effect on Friday.
HB 1523, officially known as The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, protects the actions of individuals and businesses who believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, that sex is only acceptable within the confines of heterosexual marriage, and that gender refers to a person's sex assigned at birth.
Among its provisions:
* Any organization can decline “to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration or recognition of any marriage.”
* Employers can make a “decision whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization.”
* Mississippians can deny housing based on religious beliefs.
* Foster care organizations and adoption agencies can “decline to provide any adoption or foster care service” without fear of retribution.
* The state can’t prosecute any person who “declines to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning or declines to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling or fertility services” or any wedding- or marriage-related services.
* Schools and business owners can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings.”
The bill was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant last year but been in limbo amid challenges that it violates the First Amendment and unfairly favors people of certain religions. But the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the plaintiffs, Campaign for Southern Equality, lacked standing to bring suit and declined to rehear the case.
Governor Bryant insisted the law, enacted in the wake of federal marriage equality, was "perfectly constitutional."
"The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs." Bryant's support is somewhat surprising considering his son is believed to be gay. (Patrick Bryant reportedly moved to Austin after the law was signed.)
Critics call the act the most sweeping anti-LGBT law in the U.S. and maintain it would allow hospital, schools and even homeless shelters to turn away LGBT people and other minorities based on religious convictions.
“All HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill and the need to solve our state’s financial mess,” Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said in a press release last summer.
“I don’t believe that’s the way to carry out Jesus’ primary directives to protect the least among us and to love thy neighbor.”