Mississippi Newspapers Criticize State Legislature For Passing Anti-LGBT Law

››› ››› JARED HOLT

Mississippi newspapers spoke out against state legislation that allows individuals, businesses, religious organizations, the state government, and its employees to refuse service to LGBT people, as well as those who have extramarital sex, based on "religious belief or moral convictions." Gov. Phil Bryant claimed he was "protecting religious freedom" in signing the bill, but state newspaper editorials and publishers called the measure "unnecessary," said it was harmful to the state's image and reputation, and dubbed it the state's "latest Jim Crow law."

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant Signs Anti-LGBT Bill Into Law Under Guise Of "ReligiousFreedom"

Associated Press: "Mississippi Gov. Signs Law Allowing Service Denial To Gays." On April 5, the Associated Press reported that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed legislation into law that would permit anti-LGBT discrimination by "allowing religious groups and private businesses to deny service to gay and transgender people":

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. [Associated Press, 4/5/16]

Mississippi Newspaper Editorial Boards, Publishers Rebuke State Government For Passing The Law

The Clarion-Ledger: With The Governor's Signature, Mississippi "Welcomed Its Latest Jim Crow Law." In an April 6 editorial, The Clarion-Ledger voiced opposition to the law and expressed frustration that its "unnecessary existence" is "another permanent stain on [Mississippi's] disturbing record with civil rights." The editorial called the measure the state's "latest Jim Crow Law," saying it "displayed a sign for the world to see: Welcome to Mississippi. No gays allowed":

The pen is mightier than the sword. And on Tuesday, it was infinitely more destructive.

That's the day Gov. Phil Bryant announced he signed House Bill 1523 -- the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act -- into law with the support of most of the Mississippi Legislature as well as several religious organizations and many constituents.

Yet many businesses, along with other legislators, religious organizations and constituents opposed the measure, citing it as a form of legal discrimination against the LGBT community.

We fall in the latter group, opposing this law based on its unnecessary existence and mean-spirited intent to segregate Mississippians based on their beliefs.

There are two main flaws with the new law.

The first glaring issue is the truth that existing state and federal law already offer the protections this bill claims are needed for Mississippians to exercise their religious rights and to ensure their churches aren't forced by the government to conduct ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs.

[...]

The second huge flaw is every single page of the law.

By signing this, Gov. Bryant delivered Mississippi another permanent stain on its disturbing record with civil rights. By allowing businesses and public officials legal rights to deny service to LGBT residents, the Magnolia State is reinforcing a stereotype of prejudice and injustice.

[...]

Through the swish of a pen, Bryant signed away the rights of families, ignored the pleas of residents and businesses, and wrote another page in the state's history that future generations will be shocked, even embarrassed, to read.

With a final stroke of that pen, Mississippi welcomed its latest Jim Crow law and displayed a sign for the world to see: Welcome to Mississippi. No gays allowed.

Mississippi and its citizens deserve better than this unconscionable law. [The Clarion-Ledger, 4/6/16]

Jackson Free Press President And Publisher: Gov. Bryant "Stands Squarely On The Wrong Side Of History With The Bigoted Governors Of Mississippi's Past." In an April 6 column, Todd Stauffer, president and publisher of the Jackson Free Press, wrote that Gov. Bryant "stands squarely on the wrong side of history" for signing the anti-LGBT bill into law and lamented that he "locked arms with the forces of fear, judgement and isolationism":

Gov. Phil Bryant, in signing HB 1523, has cemented his legacy.

He stands squarely on the wrong side of history with the bigoted governors of Mississippi's past, firm in his determination to uphold the "freedom" of his perceived constituency to act publicly upon their biases and discomfort instead of showing guts and leadership by protecting the lawfully held civil rights of a minority in his state.

And he has locked arms with the forces of fear, judgment and isolationism that have driven Mississippi's "best and brightest" from the state in search of more welcoming places that champion mutual respect, support self-expression and encourage understanding.

Bryant's decision is wrong. It's bad for people, and it's bad for business.

First, let's be brutally clear about what the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" does: It codifies protections for citizens (let's call them "first-class citizens") who desire to discriminate against certain other citizens (call them "second-class citizens") because the first-class citizens hold a "belief or conviction" that the second-class citizen (a) is lawfully married to the wrong person, (b) is lawfully having sex with the wrong person or (c) doesn't identify appropriately with their "immutable biological sex" they were noted to have "at the time of birth."

The act allows government workers to refuse to fulfill their sworn duty to serve American citizens in this state because that worker feels uncomfortable doing so based on a personal opinion of the citizen he or she is asked to serve.

Likewise, people who provide an accommodation through a business that is open to the public will be able to do the same thing--deny that accommodation because they're uncomfortable with the individual customer in question.

We've been down this road before--in 1963, President Kennedy called for legislation "giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public--hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments," a goal realized in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite white people's "strongly held convictions" that people of color shouldn't be served in their stores and restaurants, acting on such "convictions" was determined to be unlawful and unconstitutional. [Jackson Free Press, 4/6/16]

The Commercial Dispatch: Law Is An "Embarrassing Solution Looking For A Problem That Does Not Exist." In an April 6 editorial, The Commercial Dispatch said it had hoped Gov. Bryant would have the "courage and wisdom" to veto the anti-LGBT legislation. Instead, the paper wrote, he threw "the first punch in what is, quite simply, an unnecessary fight." The editorial called the law "a loud, embarrassing solution" to "a problem that does not exist":

We, among many, hoped the Governor would see the reasons, both moral and practical, to veto this bill and that he would have the courage and wisdom to do so. Bryant was not equal to the task.

The law attracted immediate attention in the national media. The governors of Washington, Vermont and New York announced travel bans to Mississippi, a symbolic gesture, certainly, but one that hints at the disdain that will rain down on our state in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, the business community, both inside and outside the state, has been uniform in opposition the bill. Historically, Mississippi has struggled to bring new jobs to our state as virtually all the economic measurables affirm. The last thing we need is yet another reason business should not come to Mississippi.

We are throwing the first punch in what is, quite simply, an unnecessary fight.

In Mississippi, LGBT people are not a protected class. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry, they can be lawfully discriminated against in many areas -- jobs, housing, even basic services. The infamous attack on the Christian florist who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is a myth here: There are no state laws that compel that baker to perform that service.

This is, then, a loud, embarrassing solution looking for a problem that does not exist. Bryant himself acknowledged this new law does not supersede any federal anti-discrimination laws. By his own admission, the new law achieves absolutely nothing -- except, of course, further damage the reputation of our state and its people. [The Commercial Dispatch, 4/6/16]

Sun Herald: "Mississippi's Stand On Same-Sex Marriage Is Simply Wrong." In an April 1 editorial, the Sun Herald pointed out that the anti-LGBT law will not only "cost taxpayers dearly" in losing court battles, but also tarnish the state's image:

There is a serious disconnect between a state Legislature dominated by the central and northern reaches of the state and the tourism-dependent Mississippi Coast.

The latest result of that unhappy marriage is House Bill 1523, which in our opinion discriminates against gays and lesbians. Its provisions are sure to be challenged in court, which will cost taxpayers dearly. And the state is sure to lose.

But its biggest cost is the damage to Mississippi's image.

The highest court in the land has ruled: Same-sex couples have a right to marry that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

We could have accepted the wisdom of that decision and moved on, leaving matters of love and marriage to the individuals involved.

Instead, we followed the lead of House Speaker Phil Gunn of Clinton, one of the authors of HB1523, into a legal, moral and ethical swamp.

[...]

They should be working to roll out the welcome mat, not backing laws that tell folks they'd be better off vacationing, or moving, elsewhere. [Sun Herald, 4/1/16]

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBTQ
Network/Outlet
Associated Press
Show/Publication
The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi Sun Herald, Jackson Free Press
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