North Carolina’s recent decision to move forward with a religious freedom bill that many have labeled as discriminatory has been met with a lot of opposition, including PayPal’s decision to pull their planned expansion from the state. This is similar to the stance that was adopted by many companies after Indiana passed a similar law, which was ultimately repealed to help the Hoosier State’s economy.
Despite these warning signs that major businesses nationwide are not willing to accept laws that permit discrimination against members of the LGBT community, Mississippi became the latest state to add a religious freedom law to its books. When Governor Phil Bryant signed the controversial HB 1523 into law on April 5, which is also known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, he gave businesses of all types the right to refuse to provide certain services to LGBT couples.
Governor Bryant has defended his actions by claiming that the bill does not allow discrimination. However, the language of the bill specifically gives any restaurant, hotel, caterer, wedding venue and all other applicable companies the legal right to turn LGBT couples away for any pre, during or post-wedding related celebrations or events, including anniversaries.
It is important to note that the LGBT community is not the only potential target of this legislation. Although HB 1523 is less severe than many other similar bills that have been proposed across the nation, it still provides businesses with the ability to refuse services based on marital status. In other words, if a landlord believes that premarital sex is a sin, they have the right to refuse to rent an apartment to an unmarried couple of any sexuality. The same landlord could also use his or her “sincerely held religious belief” that marriage is only meant for unions between a man and a woman to turn away a married LGBT couple.
Interestingly, many of these forms of discrimination were already part of Mississippi’s law. For example, even though HB 1523 does not take effect until July 1, the previously listed landlord scenario can be legally enacted right now. Additionally, it is currently legal for employers to fire or refuse to hire someone based solely on their sexuality or gender identity. In other words, when Governor Bryant says this new law does not change anyone’s current constitutional rights, he means that discrimination is already codified into Mississippi’s law books.
It remains to be seen exactly how serious of a backlash Mississippi will face for enacting this bill, but there are several major companies that announced their opposition to it before Governor Bryant took action. Nissan, AT&T, MGM Resorts International and IBM are among the businesses that expressed their concern about HB 1523, and the Mississippi Economic Council was also calling for the Governor to veto the bill.
If recent U.S. history gives us anything to go by, it is fair to assume that Mississippi is about to experience a lot of unwanted attention and push-back from people around the country. Nissan and the other big companies that were opposed to the bill may decide to pull some of their local operations. New York’s governor has already shown the state’s commitment to supporting a discrimination-free environment by banning all non-essential state-funded travel to Mississippi. In the long run, Governor Bryant may discover that the symbolic act of signing a bill that included many pre-existing discriminatory laws will be more damaging to the state than having those old laws on the books in the first place.