Mississippi governor signs religious freedom law that allows denial of service to gay couples

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has drawn praise from conservative leaders for signing a religious freedom law.(Wikipedia)

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Tuesday dismissed objections by LGBT groups and businesses as he signed into law a legislation that would protect the religious freedom of individuals and groups in the state and prevent them from being forced to take part in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

HB 1523, or the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, is meant "to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organisations, and private associations from discriminatory actions from state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning," Bryant said.

The religious beliefs protected under the law are that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and male or female refers to an individual's biological sex.

Under HB 1523, the state government will not act against any religious organisation that will solemnise or decline to solemnise any marriage, and refuse to provide services, accommodation, facilities, goods or privileges related to the marriage based on its religious beliefs.

It also gives any religious organisation the right not to hire or terminate a person whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with its beliefs.

The law also protects a person who declines to perform sex reassignment surgeries or gender identity transitioning.

In addition, it also protects individuals who refuse to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges in same-sex marriages. These include businesses involved in photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing, floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, assembly-hall or other wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewellery sales and services.

"Mississippians from all walks of life believe that the government shouldn't punish someone because of their views on marriage," said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek.

The law also allows schools or businesses to impose policy on the use of "restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings," which would mean transgenders can use these facilities based on their biological sex and not gender identity.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins lauded the law, saying it "gives fresh momentum to efforts on the federal and state level to stop government discrimination against people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman."

However, Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said: "This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licences, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are."

The law will take effect in July this year.