Mississippi passes broad anti-LGBT law

On April 5, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill that provides businesses, religious organizations, and individuals with legal protection for refusing to provide services to LGBT individuals.

The new law provides “certain protections regarding a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction for persons, religious organizations and private associations” that refuse services to LGBT individuals. Those beliefs or convictions include tenets that say:

  • Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
  • Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; or
  • Male (man) or female (woman) refers to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.

Critics of House Bill 1523 say it protects individuals and businesses in a wide array of practices such as refusing to provide photography, catering, floral arrangements, or other wedding services to same-sex couples and refusing to provide counseling or medical treatment to LGBT people. Also, the law allows religious organizations to refuse to provide foster care or adoptive services or rent or sell property to LGBT people.

Effect on employers

Even with the new state law, employers still will be bound by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. (Title VII covers private employers with 15 or more employees.)

“For private employers subject to Title VII, this bill will not affect y0ur obligations regarding religious or sex discrimination,” said Peyton Irby, an editor of Mississippi Employment Law Letter and attorney with The Kullman Firm in Jackson, Mississippi. “Federal courts are bound to follow the federal statutes and not this state statute. Thus, we do not recommend any changes in your employment practices based on this bill.”

On March 31, the federal trial court in Jackson, Mississippi, struck down a state legislative ban on same-sex couples as adoptive parents. “We will see if HB 1523 survives a court challenge,” Irby said.

On the employment front, the text of the bill says it prohibits the state from taking action against a religious organization that makes an employment-related decision affecting individuals whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the organization.

The bill also prohibits the state from taking action against anyone for establishing “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

The bill allows government employees who authorize or license marriages to seek recusal from authorizing or licensing marriages because of their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. Also, government employees who perform marriages will be allowed to seek recusal.

Finally, the bill prohibits the state from taking action against a state employee who “lawfully speaks or engages in expressive conduct based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”