Home » NEWS » Economic Development » (UPDATED) Gov. Bryant bucks business community, signs anti-gay bill

(UPDATED) Gov. Bryant bucks business community, signs anti-gay bill

By TED CARTER

Mississippi business organizations and the state’s major employers ultimately did not have influence sufficient to dissuade Gov. Phil Bryant from signing House Bill 1523, legislation the governor says protects religious freedoms but opponents say legalizes discrimination against gay people and others.

Putting aside protests from business groups and businesses across the state, Bryant Tuesday morning gave his official blessing to the bill and proclaimed it a necessary step to ensure religious liberty is maintained. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows circuit court clerks, faith-based organizations and businesses to refuse service to gay people and others.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi said the sanctioned discrimination by religiously affiliated organizations includes hospitals, schools, shelters and others. The discrimination, the ACLU said, can be directed at “LGBT people, single mothers, and vulnerable young people in Mississippi.”

» READ THE BILL HERE

Supporters say the law is sorely needed to protect religious freedoms in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriages.

In a statement accompanying the signing notice, Bryant said:

“I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions.”

Bryant in his statement insisted HB 1523 is constitutional and does not attempt to challenge federal law.

In its early reaction, the ACLU of Mississippi said the signing marked “a sad day” for Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are.”

Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi, did not say whether the organization will challenge HB 1523 in court, but she noted the ACLU is fighting anti-LGBT laws across the country. Earlier this week, the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality North Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s sweeping anti-LGBT law, Riley-Collins said.

The day before Bryant’s bill signing, the 2,100-member Mississippi Manufacturers Association joined the Mississippi Economic Council in denouncing HB 1523, which the Legislature passed last week and set off an uproar across the state.

Their denunciations have followed similar condemnations from major Mississippi employers such as Nissan, Toyota, Ingalls Shipbuilding, MGM Resorts and Casinos and such national companies as AT&T, General Electric and others.

In the days leading to Tuesday’s signing, Bryant found himself stuck between disappointing Mississippi’s business leaders in a huge way or encountering the wrath of his evangelical and culturally conservative base.

The Manufacturers Association opposition statement zeroed-in on economic development — one of Bryant’s prized endeavors.

“We have seen the negative attention that Georgia and North Carolina have received on this issue and have now seen the attention shift towards Mississippi,” the organization said, adding the measure causes it “grave” concern. “MMA fears that future economic development opportunities will be jeopardized if HB 1523 is signed into law.”

Enacting the legislation could set back recent successes in portraying Mississippi as a tolerant state, the Manufacturers Association said in closing its statement. “MMA respectfully calls on the Legislature to reconsider their stance on HB 1523 and for Gov. Phil Bryant to veto this bill before it causes any more harm to Mississippi’s image,” it said.

The MMA emphasized that the measure is “in direct opposition to many of our member industry’s policies and beliefs regarding diversity and inclusivity.”

The tight spot in which Bryant found himself came courtesy of a Republican super majority in the House and the party’s tightened grip on the Senate after the November 2015 elections.

A veto last week got Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal out of a squeeze his Legislature put him in by passing a bill similar to Mississippi’s. But unlike Bryant, Deal is said to have no political aspirations after his final term expires in 2018.

Businesses speaking out against HB 1523 employ massive numbers of people in the state.

Toyota, for instance, has a workforce of  about 2,000 people at its Mississippi plant in Blue Springs. Nissan employs nearly 6,000 people at its Canton manufacturing plant, Ingalls Shipbuilding  about 12,000 workers at its Gulfport yards. MGM Resorts employs hundreds of people at its Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi.

The MEC said in a statement Saturday from Blake Wilson, the organization’s CEO, that HB 1523 conflicts with the policies of the MEC’s business members by limiting diversity and inclusion.

“As the State Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi businesses from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies or that would limit diversity and inclusion impacting their customers and employees,” said the MEC, which has 11,000 members from 1,100 member businesses.

“HB 1523 conflicts with this policy,” the State Chamber said.

Nissan was the first major Mississippi jobs provider to take a stand against  the so-called “Freedom of Conscience” bill.

Nissan says it is especially concerned that the legislation will allow discrimination against its workers in Mississippi.

In a statement from the Japanese automaker’s North American headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., the company said: “Nissan is committed to providing our employees with an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity.  It is Nissan’s policy to prohibit discrimination of any type, and we oppose any legislation that would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.”

MGM Resorts said it can’t support the “Freedom of Conscience” bill and fears not only its business will be hurt but businesses across the state as well.  ” We respect the diversity of our employees, guests and people in our communities.  Laws that permit businesses to decline to provide services to individuals because of this diversity result in decreased tourism and hurt the local economy,” MGM Resorts said.

Toyota did not specifically mention the legislation, but said it “does not condone discrimination in any form and believes that inclusive treatment of all people is good for the workplace, marketplace and society as a whole. In our experience, the best ideas come when everyone is equally engaged and valued.”

The opposition of the state’s businesses has developed far slower than did opposition to similar legislation last month in Georgia. Gov. Deal’s veto last week followed high-profile opposition from Coco-Cola, Delta Airlines and film production companies such as Disney and Marvel.

HB 1523, with its attention to wedding service providers, has been interpreted to be narrowly written and limited in the types of businesses it protects. The ACLU of Mississippi disagrees, however. It says the new law will free all types of businesses to discriminate. Its provisions will allow any business to refuse service to same sex-couples or anyone else based on religious faith or moral convictions, the ACLU Mississippi said.

Opponents during the March 30  Senate vote failed in an attempt to amend the bill to require court clerks and businesses that intend to refuse service to a category of people to post a sign in a visible place stating this.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and seven co-sponsors of HB 1523, dubbed the bill the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” It sailed through the House on an 80-39 vote.

Gunn said he wrote the bill in response to the brief jailing of Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court ruled such marriages legal. HB 1523 would allow clerks and other staff to refuse to sign marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The bill specifies clerks and staffers must find someone in the office willing to sign the license, but it leaves uncertain how a same-sex marriage could be made official if all employees in a clerk’s office declined to issue a license.

Sen. Jenifer Banning, a newly elected Republican from Philadelphia who presented the bill in the Senate debate, assured questioners a solution was available. She said during debate that a court clerk who refuses to issue a license to a same-sex couple must either find a deputy willing to issue the license or hire someone to do so.

If it is too much of an imposition to hire an extra staffer who is willing to issue the licenses, the clerk should reconsider staying in the post, said Banning, a lawyer.

Questioners said they see nothing in the bill that would force a clerk to do this.

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About Ted Carter

25 comments

  1. So much for that business friendly environment. We can’t stab ourselves in the foot and claim that tax cuts are just the thing to fix the state’s business climate.

  2. What a backwards way of thinking. Who are you that judge others based on your beliefs or prejudices. If a person or couple is not breaking the law then any elected or appointed civil servant should perform the duty they were put in place to do in accordance with the laws in place to all comers. Shame on you!

    • Debbie Mitchell

      Note to self: Stop doing business with Nissan, Toyota, Ingalls Shipbuilding, MGM Resorts and Casinos and such national companies as AT&T, General Electric and any other businesses that let this slide in Mississippi simply because they got a line in the press that they disagreed with the policy.

      Your “job” should never include the right to discriminate.
      Your job should be to do your job.

      I do not have to know anything about the sex lives of my customers – I mean really I don’t want to know! I don’t have to know if they leave the toilet seat up or down – REALLY I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. If they want to do business with my business – we do business!

  3. How did this guy get elected again? Mississippi taking another step backwards! I hope the federal government puts the clamps on Mississippi I really do!

    • I actually don’t want the Federal Government to intervene. Instead, I hope the business community steps in and takes action. Businesses should not make their employees choose between making a living and being a second class citizen. There are many other states that offer a similar business climate and no stipulation that LGBT citizens/employees accept second-class status.

      I would never ask a preacher to conduct a wedding they didn’t feel comfortable with. But outside of that, all of the other tasks that go into making a wedding possible are transactional. If you arrange flowers, you arrange flowers. You’re not blessing the wedding, you’re making a flower arrangement. Businesses shouldn’t have a right to discriminate, and neither should non-profit organizations that provide services using public funds. If your organization helps facilitate adoptions, you should work with all individuals who are willing, able and legally permitted to adopt children – including LGBT individuals and married couples.

      It’s a shame. I’m not from Mississippi, nor have I ever been there – in part because I feel I wouldn’t be welcome. This law only solidifies that view and discourages not just LGBT people from avoiding the state, but also the friends and family of community. I’m sure there are a lot of wonderful people in the state, along with an abundance of natural beauty… But many Americans will never see it because of the reputation the state has earned. It’s just a shame…

      • I agree that I would never ask a preacher to conduct a wedding they didn’t feel comfortable with. Especially if the same goods and services are available elsewhere at a comparable price. Unfortunately, some people would (and have) just to make a point and to get attention and money from legal settlements. The hard part here is drawing a line that respects everyone.

        For instance, if you were a tailor would you be willing to sew patches onto KKK uniforms? You probably would feel that, even though it is legal, it is a morally wrong thing to support.

        We certainly shouldn’t expect business to offer goods or services that they would not normally offer (e.g. Pork from a Jewish deli).

        You should visit Mississippi sometime. I think you would be very surprised at the hospitality and open-mindedness of most Mississippians.

        • Bob –

          The situation you point out is interesting and very real. I think there’s a difference, though, between asking a business to do something as they do every day, and making a special request. For example, a florist should not be allowed to deny a couple their flower arrangements when they’re identical to what is prepared for every other customer. The same goes for a Jewish deli that does not normally serve pork — if it’s not on the menu, you don’t get to come in and demand it. But if you normally bake wedding cakes, and a couple comes in and requests one, I think you should bake it. If you feel you have a moral obligation to tell the customer you don’t support the message on an individual basis, so be it. But you should not be able to refuse.

          That said, I’ll admit it’s sticky with “hate groups” requesting service. If I’m going of the cuff, I’d say that a tailor should sew on KKK badges. That said, I don’t think you should be required to print hateful messages. For example, no one should be required to produce any product which says “Death to (insert minority group here)” or similar. Again, though, I’m open to a discussion on how to solve the issue. I just think there needs to be a clear distinction between doing a business-as-usual transaction for someone, and doing something special.

          I hope that makes sense…

          • Simguy,

            No problem. I think we agree in principle. Somehow we must find a way to respect the beliefs and rights of EVERYONE. If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can do this.

  4. I applaud Governor Bryant for standing up for the people of Mississippi against big business. It seems reasonable to me that if someone can refuse to serve in the military because of their deeply held beliefs, they should be able to refuse to participate in a gay wedding (or other activity) for the same reason.

    Why should people be forced to support an activity that they feel is wrong? Most Christians are not judging the people, but their behavior. Why should they lose their livelihood or go to jail because of their beliefs even when another merchant is willing to offer the same goods and services? Don’t attorneys have the right to refuse a client or refer them to another attorney when they don’t want to handle a case?

    That said, I do not feel that the bill should allow people to refuse to sell products, offer housing or employment to people based solely on their sexual orientation. This bill may not be perfect. But I think there is some middle-ground here where we can find a solution that respects EVERYONE.

    • Bill –

      I appreciate the points you’ve laid out, and the fact that you were civil (and not emotional) about it… But I have some feedback on a few of your points:

      Big business: We often blur the lines between “Big business” forcing measures for financial gain, and those doing so to protect their employees. In this case, the Nissans and Toyotas of the world aren’t pushing because they stand to profit. Instead, they’re pushing because it’s a bad position to put your employees in when you locate an office in a territory that is not welcoming. In this case, they could have talented employees coming in from states where they’re protected and now are forced to live as a second class citizen OR give up their employment.

      Personal choice: I agree, to an extent. I do not want a pastor to be forced to conduct a ceremony against their will. But for me, that’s the line in the sand. If you bake cakes or put together flower arrangements, you’re not blessing the ceremony. Rather, you’re making a flower arrangement — or baking a cake. The problem lies in the fact that the slope is very slippery when you extend “protections” to businesses. Does a grocery store have the right to refuse groceries to a gay couple? Can a doctor refuse to see LGBT patients? Should a gas station be able to shut off the pump if the vehicle has an HRC (=) sticker in the window? The list goes on and on… But in the mid-20th century, we addressed this. If your business serves the public, you serve all of the public. You don’t get to tell people where they can sit or IF they can sit at the lunch counter, despite how you feel personally/religiously. If you serve lunch, you serve lunch to all citizens who request to be served in a legal manner. There’s no special requests – just do your everyday work for customers that request it. If you refuse, then that’s discrimination and it’s wrong. If an attorney feels they can’t win a case or aren’t qualified to try it, they can pass. But if an attorney said “I don’t feel right serving (insert minority population here) people” then again, that’s wrong.

      Protect clergy… Everyone else needs to serve the public. Especially if they receive public funds, but not excluding folks who are completely private.

  5. Thank you Governor. Actually no one should have to serve anyone, rent to anyone or hire anyone for whatever reason. I am sure this country did not start out that way. The Government is different in that it is of the people and by the people. Even the Government shouldn’t however have to do something totally immoral. By-the-way this has nothing to do with Blacks so don’t give me that argument.
    I find it difficult to believe that big business cares one way or the other. They just are wimped down like most everyone else.

    joe

    • so youre cool with refusing blacks because they have no souls and Jews because they killed Christ? Youre backward, dude

      • Normandywells nails it. Let’s be civil but blunt. We have a group of folks who sincerely believe things were better before the CRA of 65, and all other supporting legislation. This is probably further fed by our zenophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant attitude.
        I only hope this inherently unconstitutional, evangelical Taliban culture is driven from this state and this country in due haste.

  6. Clearly from the comments most the people commenting do not know what is actually in the bill. The bill does not create any protection for businesses to deny service to a person based on sexual orientation. The bill is almost completely written around certain wedding activities that may be declined, and even then only under certain circumstances. I also applaud Governor Bryant for having the courage to stand up for some very basic religious freedoms.

  7. Tom in Lazybrook

    Did the provision allowing medical providers to refuse to treat LGBT persons survive in the signed bill? If that provision survived, was there any provision mandating that the LGBT person denied care be provided care in Mississippi and that insurance policies must ensure that the insured receive the same covered care in Mississippi that straight persons are eligible to receive?

    I’m also curious about how this will impact Transgendered visitors to Mississippi. Does this bill mandate that transgendered persons use the restroom consistent with their birth gender? If so, I see lots of problems. It seems to me that if the law mandates ‘birth gender’ and it appears to do so, then it would force persons with beards, no breasts, and in many cases, with male ‘parts’ having to use the ladies room. If I were Transgendered, I’d be terrified of violence. Remember that many states, including neighboring ones, do not allow a person to change their ‘legal gender’ under any circumstances, including after sex reassignment surgery. I don’t see how any convention can elect to host an event in Mississippi under these conditions.

    Does this bill mandate that transgendered persons be provided with equal public accommodations by business owners, or will they be denied the ability to go to the restroom while engaging in public commerce?

    This law appears to enable the effective barring of Transgendered persons from commerce in Mississippi. Can’t go to the restroom while shopping downtown. Can’t get served at a restaurant. Can’t get medical care. Can’t use taxpayer funded facilities.

    So how does this bill, which is labelled a religious ‘freedom’ bill only protects three religious beliefs (and those are not held by all religions) , not elevate anti-Gay/trans religious beliefs over others. Under this bill those belonging to religions that don’t support LGBT couples are now given extra protections over those that don’t.

    I don’t see how any business can move to or expand in Mississippi without blowback if Mississippi makes it impossible for LGBT Mississippians to exist in the state. And this bill makes it pretty hard for all LGBT Mississippians and pretty close to impossible for Transgendered ones.

    The bill absolutely creates an ‘open ended’ right of any business in Mississippi to refuse service to LGBT persons for basically any reason. They can refuse to rent an apartment to a married LGBT couple. They can refuse to serve a meal to a Gay couple celebrating their anniversary. They can refuse medical care to LGBT persons. They can refuse to rent a car to a Gay couple. They can refuse to allow a Transgendered person the ability to use any bathroom. We’ve seen this before. Protestations that this ‘will work itself out’ have been shown to be false in the past in Mississippi. There is a significant level of animus against LGBT persons in Mississippi. The Mississippi Ag Center refused to rent a public building open to others for rentals for a celebration featuring a Gay couple. It also appears to be de facto illegal for a Gay person (any LGBT person) to hold a liquor license in NE Mississippi. But for me, the biggest issue in the bill is the medical one. If that’s still in the bill, its going to present a huge problem.

    The better news is that this whole mess will probably be struck down by the courts well before its July 1 implementation. If the courts don’t act watch for the casinos and convention business to be dramatically impacted and businesses based in or looking to expand in Mississippi to face huge pressure by the LGBT and non-LGBT aligned communities to reconsider those actions. This law could potentially cause problems for Federal contractors as well (especially hospitals).

    This bill is every bit as bad as the national press is saying. If anything, the bad press might be understating the issue as they aren’t talking about the medical issue.

  8. Bilbo, Barnett and Bryant. Three pinnacles of ignorance!

    How do we elect such hateful politicos?

    Don’t you know their mama’s would be proud of them.

    • Well stated. Bryant will be a total pariah by the time he leaves office due to the unintended consequences of this bill on business. And everyone thought Barbour left us with a bitter taste. We elect fools, indeed.

  9. So sorry that you have followed the footsteps of other GOP led states. Indiana is still reeling from the fiasco of last year. We lost convention business, some business left the state and others decided not to relocate their business within Indiana. This happened even though Indiana passed a weak fix fairly quickly. The answer is to get registered to vote and then just vote the GOP out of office throughout your state. The party is broken!

  10. After 27 years in the military, my wife and I recently retired to MS and have enjoyed our short time here. It appears we are recovering from Katrina finally with businesses and homes returning to the coast. It is with great dismay that we watched the Governor sign this bill. We came from NC, where that Governor, too, caved to the religious fanatics. NC has now lost a PayPal project which would have created 400 jobs, no doubt many of which would have gone to those same ultra religious individuals. There is more negativity and lost jobs/income coming to NC and now MS has signed up to be embarrassed and lose jobs/revenue as well. This is very short-sighted and the bill should be repealed ASAP.

    We are but a small voice here and we can only be heard at the voting booth. Going forward, we will vote for no Republican candidates in any election (local, state, Federal) until this silliness is corrected By the way, I am now sad to say, and truly regret, that I voted for Gov. Bryant during the last election.

  11. Isn’t it ironic that the very people who fought to have society respect them regardless of thier beliefs and lifestyles care so little about the beliefs and lifestyles of others?

    • Not true. You have the right to believe as you wish. You just can’t force those beliefs on to me. You can tell me you wish I wouldn’t get married, but you do need to bake a cake – if that’s what you do for a living. You can have signs in your yard, preach at church and vote for people that demonize the LGBT community. But at the end of the day, you perform your job. And when you come to me for help at my job, I won’t turn you away because you’ve got a cross around your next, or because your skin tone is different than mine.

      *I don’t believe in forcing a Pastor to officiate a wedding they don’t want to. But there is a very big difference between blessing a union and putting together a flower arrangement.

      • Sure you can believe anything you like. But just as with gays a few decades ago, people are not always free to practice what they believe. Can a musician or singer refuse to perform at a same-sex wedding? What about a wedding planner?Can a mosque refuse to host a Jewish wedding? I think it is important to draw a line between participation and simply providing goods or services. We somehow need to find a way to respect EVERYONE. That’s not always easy.

        So far I’ve read some pretty hateful things posted from both sides of the issue. Some of the attacks against Christians remind me of the things I heard people say about gays back in the ’50s.

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