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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

LGBT Discrimination in Mississippi -- "Lashing With the Bible Belt"


“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” 

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some recent rulings in the Deep South make me recall Dr. King's words in a time when hatred raged and fear gripped minorities in states like Mississippi. Are people there now creating a strange reversal back into times of inequality with the recent flow of state-government-sanctioned discrimination?

House Bill 1523 has been signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant. The Republican-dominated Senate voted 31-17 to pass the controversial bill, called the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act." The legislation says that businesses, social workers and public employees cannot be punished for denying services based on the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman or that "sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage." It also protects individuals who believe gender is determined at birth.

Not only does the legislation create a right to withhold services aiding same-sex marriage, but also to those who engage in extramarital sex (The bill states “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage between a man and a woman.”), as well as from transgender people, based on religious objection.

The bill then defines all the actions that a Mississippi resident could take — with one of those moral convictions as a reason — with the guarantee that the state government won't punish him or retaliate against him.

For religious organizations, protected actions include refusing to conduct a marriage, firing or disciplining employees, declining to provide adoption or foster care services and refusing to rent or provide housing.

For individuals and private companies, they include "guiding, instructing or raising" a foster child in accordance with those three beliefs; refusing to give counseling, fertility services or transition-related medical care; declining to provide wedding-related business services; and establishing sex-specific dress codes and having sex-segregated restrooms and other facilities.

And the bill allows state employees to refuse to license or perform marriages to which they morally object.

Any state punishment or retaliation for such actions, like a person losing a job, a license or a state grant, is deemed "discrimination" under the bill, with compensation to be available for those so affected.

(Camila Domonoske. “Here's Why Mississippi's 'Religious Freedom' Bill Is So Controversial.” National Public Radio. April 01, 2016.)

The law doesn't mention the right of a private company or person to fire employees or refuse to rent housing. But in Mississippi, as in 27 other states, it's already legal to fire people or refuse to lease them property because of their sexuality.

The measure is said to aim to “protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions” such as local governments and state universities.

Bryant asserted that the law will not “limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws.”

The bill passed the Mississippi House 80-39 in February, but now heads back to the House before the legislation goes to the governor's desk.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has not said whether he will veto the legislation if passed by the House.

(Jacquellena Carrero. “Mississippi Senate Passes Sweeping 'Religious Liberty' Bill.” NBCNews. April 06, 2016.)

State religious freedom bills have made the news frequently. Last month Georgia's Republican governor refused to sign such a measure.

Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia spoke of such laws to National Public Radio's Jennifer Ludden. Laycock said that religious freedom laws have a range of applications.

"There are cases about churches feeding the homeless. The neighbors sometimes don't like that. There are cases about Muslim women wearing scarves or veils. They're about Amish buggies. They're about Sabbath observers," Laycock said, saying such laws would apply to all those cases.


My View

What the hell is the matter with states that discriminate against LGBT people? Gov. Bryant said the law “merely reinforces” existing religious freedoms. But, it is clear that states passing such laws unfairly cater to one view of religion in a democracy where church and state are meant to remain separate. I understand the right of ministers to refuse to perform weddings. In my opinion, they are reasonably “reinforcing their religious beliefs,” as are churches with denomination objections to whatever happens within the churches themselves.

Yet ...

I don't understand or remotely comprehend individual and private company discrimination concerning matters that do not relate to what is being smoke-screened as religious beliefs and moral convictions.” The real purpose of such legislation is to protect bigotry. 
What will this bill mean to LGBT Mississippians who seek to marry, raise children or receive medical and psychological services? The law amounts to a state sanction of discrimination against LGBT people.

And, what effect does the bill impose on every citizen?

After all, it is not a slippery slope to believe the proposed Mississippi bill could also impact unmarried couples and single mothers. I can't imagine this view of morality and the havoc it might cause if extremists are encouraged to stop all from having sexual relations outside of marriage.

Mississippi even has a rarely enforced law on the books criminalizing cohabitation.

Under Mississippi law, “if any man and woman shall unlawfully cohabit . . . they shall be fined in any sum not more than five hundred dollars each, and imprisoned in the county jail not more than six months; and it shall not be necessary, to constitute the offense, that the parties shall dwell together publicly as husband and wife, but it may be proved by circumstances which show habitual sexual intercourse.” MS § 97-29-1 (2013).

Thus, in Mississippi, criminal cohabitation is a misdemeanor offense that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The gist of criminal cohabitation is “habitual sexual intercourse.” But, evidence of habitual sexual intercourse alone is insufficient to prove unlawful cohabitation; the parties must actually reside or dwell together as well. Cutrer v. State, 121 So. 2d 106 (Miss. 1929).

(Devin Whitt. “Shackin’ Up & The Legal Effects of Cohabitation in Mississippi.." July 29, 2014.)

And, I have said this time and again. This LGBT discrimination business is based on one idea – those who want restrictions on the LGBT community are thinking solely about sexual relations of which they do not approve. Who has the right to judge a union and why any union is joined? 

Older Americans (and others) by the truckloads marry and cohabit for monetary reasons, for convenience, and for simple companionship – none of which is openly frowned upon by most religious groups. Who has the right to even question same-sex individuals about their personal beliefs and their habits? I believe that such matters are private.
As far as sexual relations, males are overwhelmingly liable to turn a blind eye to judging lesbian sex as offensive, and many who say they oppose homosexuality enjoy watching two females engaged in sexual acts. I'm not trying to be gross here. I am simply telling the truth as I have seen it. If you must know … I will confess. I have been guilty of watching movies that feature such sexual scenes.

When will religions worry more about their own flocks and about helping others rather than about making everyone else conform to their standards. Basic civil rights are guaranteed to all Americans -- even in Bible belts and even in bastions of inequality like Mississippi.

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