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National

Mississippi Governor Signs Controversial Religious Liberty Law

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mississippi's Republican governor has signed a bill into law called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. It allows businesses and religious groups to deny a range of services to gay and lesbian people. They can refuse to plan a wedding or help with the adoption of a child. Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Paul Boger has details.

PAUL BOGER, BYLINE: After signing the bill, Gov. Phil Bryant spoke to the conservative radio program "The J.T. Show" on Supertalk Mississippi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHIL BRYANT: I'm a limited government type of guy, always have been. So when I get a bill that says - and that's exactly what this does. It says it limits the government from discriminating against an individual because of their religious beliefs. I think that's a good idea.

BOGER: Bryant signed the measure despite pressure to veto the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No hate...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: ...In our state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No hate...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: ...In our state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No hate...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: ...In our state.

BOGER: Civil rights groups from across the state and nation helped protest on the steps of the State Capitol in Jackson in recent days. And the law has drawn criticism from business leaders such as the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and from Nissan North America, which operates a large plant in the state.

Stephen Thomas from Meridian drove an hour-and-a-half to take part in the protest. He worries the new law will affect his upcoming wedding.

STEPHEN THOMAS: I can't go into a bakery, so to speak, and get a cake made for my wedding. It's just - it just gives people the tool to legally discriminate against other people.

BOGER: Opponents of the law have also argued that the measure will force the state to mount an expensive legal defense. Rob Hill is with the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBT Rights Organization. He says the law will definitely be challenged in court.

ROB HILL: It's clearly unconstitutional, and it will not survive. And it's a waste to taxpayers to have to defend this in federal courts.

BOGER: Under the new law, a government official who refuses to sign a marriage license for a same-sex couple is required to find another official who will. Republican state Sen. Jennifer Branning of Philadelphia says no one will be denied services.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNIFER BRANNING: This bill in no way allows for discrimination by one person against another. What it does is it prohibits your government from discriminating against you with regards to your religious beliefs. That's the bottom line.

BOGER: However, that same obligation does not apply to religious organizations or private businesses that provide marriage-related services - everything from photography to floral arrangements. According to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, 68 percent of Mississippians said they support the measure. The law takes effect July 1. For NPR News, I'm Paul Boger in Jackson, Miss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.