WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, is calling on Mississippi lawmakers to reject anti-gay legislation that would allow businesses to deny services to LGBT people.
SB 2681, which passed the Mississippi Senate in January, would allow businesses to deny services to anyone if they felt doing so was a “burden” on their “exercise of religion.” It is similar in nature to the controversial Arizona bill currently sitting on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.
“This bill has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with codifying shameful discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We have seen businesses, people of faith and political leaders from both sides of the aisle speak out against this type of legislation. Passing this bill would not only place Mississippi firmly on the wrong side of history, it would hurt the state’s economy and tarnish its reputation.”
Because the language in the Mississippi bill is so broad, any individual, corporation, institution, or business organization may be able to justify discrimination against LGBT individuals by claiming a religious belief. Potential examples include:
• Interfering with licensing organizations that have professional regulations protecting LGBT individuals.
• Employees may potentially bring litigation against employers who are enforcing internal or external non-discrimination policies or municipal ordinances.
• Pharmacists could potentially refuse to provide HIV and hormone replacement therapy drugs.
• Restaurants and inns/hotels could potentially turn away same-sex couples celebrating an anniversary, adoption or pregnancy.
• Wedding garment shops, bakeries, photo studios, and reception halls could close their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.
“Mississippi has taken some promising steps forward recently with the passage of equality resolutions in places like Starkville and Hattiesburg,” added Griffin. “But make no mistake about it – this discriminatory legislation stands to do tremendous damage not just to LGBT people, but to all hard-working Mississippians.”
In Arizona, reaction to a similar bill has generated strong opposition. The state’s two Republican Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have joined a diverse collection of business, faith and civil rights groups in speaking out against the law. PetSmart, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a slew of travel and tourism businesses joined with bishops of the Methodist, Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches in opposition. Even former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has spoken out against the bill. Governor Jan Brewer will decide in the coming days whether to sign or veto the bill.