Mississippi bill: OK to refuse services, licenses related to same-sex marriages

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JACKSON, Miss. — State officials, private business owners and others who provide services to the public couldn’t be punished for acting on religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, under a bill advancing in the Mississippi Legislature.

Representatives on Friday voted 80-39 to pass House Bill 1523, which also specifies people couldn’t be punished for acting on beliefs that only married couples should have sexual relations and that a person’s gender identity is set at birth.

The bill was held for the possibility of more debate before it goes to the Senate.

Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, an attorney and Baptist minister, said the bill wouldn’t undo last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide but would balance that decision with people’s First Amendment right to act on their own beliefs.

“Citizens of the state of Mississippi have come and asked for this type of relief. Circuit clerks in the state of Mississippi have begged for some relief,” Gipson said.

The bill could let circuit clerks refuse to issue marriage licenses or judges refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for gay or lesbian couples. It could also let businesses refuse services for same-sex weddings. It says the state could not punish religious organizations that make hiring or firing decisions about employees whose actions conflict with the organization’s beliefs.

The bill also says the state could not punish religious organizations that refuse to place children with gay parents and that the state could not punish adoptive or foster parents based on the beliefs the parents use to raise a child.

Rob Hill, director of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign Mississippi, said gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender adoptive or foster children could be subjected to coercive “conversion therapy.”

“It is inconceivable that lawmakers in the Magnolia State are willing to advance legislation that will knowingly put some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable people at risk,” Hill said Friday. “These shameful attacks on LGBT people and their families have no place in our state.”

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, an attorney, said the bill discounts LGBT people.

“We know that they do exist, and it’s not by choice or independent decision making,” Blackmon said. “People become who they are because God has made them who they are.”

Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, is director of youth and young adult ministries for a Presbyterian church. He said the church no longer allows some groups to use its facilities, and it does not want to be sued.

“Who’s being infringed upon here?” Eubanks said. “Is it the Christian or is it the person that makes a lifestyle choice? Both of them are choices.”

Some House members responded with “Amen!”

Similar bills are being debated in other states, including Georgia and Texas.

Online: House Bill 1523

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