It’s the law. Mississippi HB1523 was signed into law on Tuesday morning by Governor Phil Bryant. Afterwards he took to the airwaves to explain his reasons for doing so.
This bill prevented “government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs …in matters of marriage…[t]his bill does not create one action against any class or group of people. It doesn’t create a new action or a new defense of an action against those people.” Governor Bryant. The Governor said it would not allow the discrimination of anyone.
The firestorm prior to, during and immediately after is still reverberating throughout the Country. If you are in favor of this law, you do not care.
Travel to Mississippi has been banned by 4 states and 7 cities. If you are in favor of this law, you do not care.
CEOs and attorneys of major tech industries have expressed their disappointment in Mississippi, such as Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce. If you are in favor of this law, you do not care.
The legislators who wrote and proposed this law have been publicly listed. One legislator who voted for it, two days later, his major tech corporation came out against it. Irony is like sweat in Mississippi. Ever present.
Passionate pleas and positions on FaceBook have been staked out. Though no one’s mind has ever been changed by a FaceBook post it provides a barometer of public sentiment. Some of the posts are absurd, irreverent and wrong. One in particular, by a lawyer, stated conclusively the law was constitutional, but to claim so you first had to set aside the finding that there is a fundamental right to marriage. Complete nonsense. That fact is no longer up for debate.
The debate essentially centers around at least two competing interests. Those in favor of the law – state that a small business owner, hardworking, toiling and of strong Christian conviction should not lose their business and livelihood due to getting sued for not baking a cake for a gay wedding. Those opposed to the law – state that this law affords no protections to a class in need of protection. The First Amendment prohibits the federal government from making a law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This provision was later expanded to state and local governments, through the Incorporation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This state law demands the respecting of an establishment of religion. It specifically allows state employees to discriminate against other citizens based upon a “sincerely held religious belief” or “moral conviction.” This means that the State employee whose job is to issue marriage licenses can refuse because they do not approve of your proposed spouse.
The intent is to prevent same-sex marriage, but it also prevents persons who were previously divorced from being married, persons pregnant out-of-wedlock who seek to be married, those that have had a child out of wedlock, and those having sex out of wedlock from getting married. These facts, by the way, are not an interpretation. It appears that most of the supporters of the law either don’t know how far it goes or don’t care to discuss the fact it demands the respecting of an establishment of religion by the State.
Interestingly, there has not been a reported instance of a small business in the State of Mississippi being sued or facing any consequences for refusing service to same-sex persons prior to this law. The Oregon case where a baker had a money judgment entered against him was due to the admitted violation of an Oregon State law and aggravating factors, such as the baker published the Complaintant’s name, home address and personal phone number on the internet. FaceBook no less. The money damages were for violating Oregon State law and the emotional distress that accompanied the intended private complaint being publicly posted.
One local Mississippi baker, Mitchell Moore of Cambell’s Bakery, whose interview with NPR went viral, stated, “I don’t think that there is such a thing as a deeply held religious belief that you should not serve people. There is no sincerely held religious belief to think that I am better than other people – to think that my sin is different than other people. And so I am a deeply Christian man, and those go counter to my belief system.” Mitchell Moore 4/6/16 interview with NPR.
With respect to the Governor’s comments, that this law prevents “government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs … in matters of marriage.” It actually allows the government to interfere.
“It does not create one action against any class or group of people” It specifically allows a state employee’s subjective belief to deny another citizen a right afforded by the U.S. Constitution and contradictory State Law.
“It would not allow the discrimination of anyone.” It specifically allows for discrimination and actually protects the person doing the discrimination under the color of law.
This law violates the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. It will be struck down. It allows the State to discriminate against you and/or someone you know and love, based upon a subjective belief that can change depending on who is seeking that State employee to do their job. Private businesses were not in need of protection, nor are State employees in need of protection from following the law that they have sworn to uphold.
Matthew Thompson is an Adjunct Professor at MC Law and a Divorce Attorney encouraging you to believe in your beliefs, but follow the law.
(601) 850-8000 or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms