Dems Aim To Repeal Mississippi Religious Freedom Law

| by Nik Bonopartis
Several bakery owners have refused service to gay and lesbian couples.Several bakery owners have refused service to gay and lesbian couples.

Mississippi Democrats say they'll try to "offer some redemption" to their state with a last-minute attempt to repeal an incoming religious freedom bill, but experts say their efforts will likely fail.

The bill, formally called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, is either an attempt at guaranteeing religious freedom or a piece of legislation that would legalize discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the state, depending on which side is describing the law.

The bill's sponsors say it would protect the religious from violating their own convictions, while its critics view it as an assault on human rights that will harm the state's image and economy.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed the religious freedom act on April 5, and it's scheduled to take effect in July, according to The Advocate. Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes says the goal is to repeal the law before July 1.

"Our public schools in Mississippi are on life support," Hughes said, per the Associated Press. "Access to health care in Mississippi and adequate health care is on life support. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. The economy is struggling.... And somehow we seem focused on passing a bill that will kill our economy."

The conflict between gay rights and religious rights has become a hot-button topic lately, with several cases making national headlines. Several bakeries in states like Washington, Texas and Massachusetts have been fined for refusing to serve gay and lesbian customers who ordered wedding cakes. Owners of potential wedding venues like New York's Liberty Farm, which is owned by Catholics, have paid hefty fines for refusing to host gay and lesbian nuptials.

The bill has prompted municipalities in other states to ban official government-sponsored travel to Mississippi, according to the AP. Several national businesses have warned they won't do business, or expand business interests, in Mississippi if the law takes effect, while musicians like Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen say they won't perform in the state.

Because the state legislature is in its last two weeks of session and filing a new bill late in the legislative season requires the approval of two thirds of lawmakers in both state houses, the Democrats likely won't be able to get a repeal law introduced, much less voted on. The Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses, the AP notes, and Republican Rules Chairman Jason White told the wire service that considering the request is "not likely."

In the meantime, opponents of the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act say they will brace for a legal battle in state courts if they have no luck repealing the bill through the legislature.

"We remain hopeful that courts throughout the state will reject any attempts to use religion to justify discrimination," ACLU of Mississippi spokeswoman Morgan Miller said in a statement, per the Los Angeles Times. "Nobody should be refused service because of who they are."

Sources: Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, The Advocate / Photo credit: Davidlud/Wikimedia Commons

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