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‘Turn Away the Gays’ Bill Comes to Mississippi

Mississippi may soon pass its own version of the discriminatory “Turn Away the Gays” bill that caused a nationwide backlash after Arizona lawmakers passed one last week. Deep South Voice examined a bill that bears striking similarities to the Grand Canyon state’s controversial legislation.

The so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or Senate Bill 2681, would require that “state action shall not burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion”  by compelling “any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.” The bill defines “exercise of religion” to mean “the ability to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

In practice, that would mean that a business could legally discriminate against LGBT people if it claims that such discrimination is motivated by their “sincerely held religious belief.” A baker, for example, might refuse to provide services to a gay couple requesting a wedding cake. This bill would affirm and codify the legitimacy of such discrimination in Mississippi state law.  

SB 2681, which passed the state Senate with 48 yes-votes, zero no-votes, and four senators absent (including Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is campaigning for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate), is now en route to a vote in the House. If passed, it would go into effect July 1, 2014.

The bill, whose Arizona cousin has been dubbed “Gay Jim Crow” by a Fox News analyst, would also amend the state seal to include “In God We Trust.”