Mississippi’s governor signed a law Tuesday allowing religious groups and private businesses to deny services to gay and transgender people — echoing attempts made in other states with varying levels of success following last year’s Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Saying he was protecting religious freedom, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill without hesitation or fanfare just hours after it cleared its final legislative obstacle Monday, and before opponents could try to talk him out of it. In addition to opposition from gay-rights activists, two leading state business associations and a number of large corporations in recent days had come out against the bill, which allows religious groups and some private businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people based on religious beliefs.
It was unclear whether opponents would continue to marshal their forces in an attempt to repeal the measure as they are doing in North Carolina, however, where the Republican governor signed a law limiting bathroom options for transgender people and prohibiting local communities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances. The Mississippi law also prohibits local communities from passing their own ordinances. The law is slated to take effect on July 1.
The law would, for example, allow a church group to decline housing or adoption services to gay couples. A hotel could refuse to rent a ballroom for a same-sex marriage and a jeweler could refuse to sell rings to a gay couple. Any employer or school could refuse to allow a transgender person to use the bathroom of their choice.
Among government employees, individual clerks could refuse to issue marriage licenses and judges could refuse to marry gay couples. In both cases, governments are supposed to take steps to make sure that the license and marriage are “not impeded or delayed,” although it was not clear how that would work if all clerks or judges in a county filed paperwork to opt out.
“This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws,” Bryant said. “It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the Legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances.”