Mississippi governor signs law over protests of gay rights advocates

by Letitia Stein, |
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant speaks in the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. Bryant signed HB1523 into effect yesterday, giving business owners the right to refuse the support of same-sex weddings on religious grounds. | Gov. Phil Bryant/Facebook

JACKSON (Reuters) – Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on Tuesday signed into law a measure affording wide protections for people of faith who do not wish to support gay marriage with their labor. Gay rights activists consider the law to be state-sanctioned discrimination.

The far-reaching law allows people with religious objections to deny wedding services to same-sex couples. It also clears the way for employers to cite religion in determining workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom and locker access.

Bryant, a Republican, said in a statement that he signed the law "to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government."

His decision comes amid national protests over a new law barring transgender people in North Carolina from choosing bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Meanwhile, the governors of Georgia and Virginia vetoed similar "religious liberty" bills last week.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the Mississippi law, which it said is set to take effect in July.

"This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are," said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi.