The Mississippi Senate has passed what critics call the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the United States, sponsored by a Baptist layman who is a trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, a member and former elder at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., introduced the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” in response to a county clerk in Kentucky being jailed for five days last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
“I don’t care what the U.S. Supreme Court says,” Gunn said at a rally in 2015. “Marriage is between one man and one woman in holy matrimony.”
On Wednesday the Senate voted 31-17 in favor of House Bill 1523, which passed the House in February and now heads back for the chamber to sign off on minor amendments in the Senate before it proceeds to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant.
The bill gives broad exemptions to people, businesses and religious organizations with “sincerely held” religious convictions that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that sex is “immutable” and “determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
Protect Thy Neighbor, a project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called it “the broadest bill of its kind that we have seen this legislative session.”
“This bill would allow state employees, corporations, individuals, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations to use religion as a justification to discriminate against nearly everyone — same sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage,” AU’s Maggie Garrett said in a recent blog.
The Human Rights Campaign called it “horrific legislation” that if passed “would allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against LGBT Mississippians in some of the most important aspect of their lives, including at work, at schools, and more.”
“Under HB 1523, religion could be used by most any individual or organization to justify discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, unwed couples and others,” according to the HRC. “Tax-payer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBT families including the child’s own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBT person — even if the organization receives government funding.
“As introduced, HB 1523 would also give foster families the freedom to subject an LGBTQ child to the dangerous practice of ‘conversion therapy,’ and subject a pregnant unwed girl to abuse, without fear of government intervention or license suspension. It would even allow individuals to refuse to carry out the terms of a state contract for the provision of counseling services to all eligible individuals, including veterans, based on the counselor’s beliefs about LGBT people or single mothers.”
Gunn was elected chairman of the Southern Seminary board of trustees in 2014 and 2015.