Governor Phil Bryant has signed into law a bill that protects government officials who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The law also protects private businesses and religious organizations that deny gay and lesbian couples a wide-range of services including - everything from wedding-planning to childhood adoption services. MPB's Paul Boger Reports from the Capitol.
After signing the bill, Governor Phil Bryant spoke to the conservative radio program, the J-T show on Supertalk Mississippi.
“Well, I’m a limited government kind of guy, always have been,” Bryant says. “So when I get a bill that says it limits the government from discriminating against an individual because of their religious beliefs, I think that’s a good idea.”
Bryant signed the measure despite pressure to veto the bill.
Civil rights groups from across the state and nation held protests on the steps of the state Capitol in Jackson in recent days. And the law has drawn criticism from business leaders such as the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and from Nissan North America, which operates a large plant in the state.
Stephen Thomas from Meridian drove an hour and a half to take part in the protest. He worries the new law will affect his upcoming wedding.
“I can’t go into a bakery, so to speak, and get a cake made for my wedding. It gives people the tool to legally discriminate against other people.”
Opponents of the law have also argued that the measure will force the state to mount an expensive legal defense. Rob Hill is with the Human Rights Campaign – a L-G-B-T rights organization. He says the law will definitely be challenged in court.
“It’s clearly unconstitutional and it will not survive. It’s a waste to taxpayers to have to defend this in federal courts.”
Under the new law, a government official who refuses to sign a marriage license for a same-sex couple is required to find another official who will. Republican State Senator Jenifer Braning of Philadelphia, says no one will be denied services.
“This bill, in no way, allows for discrimination by one person against another,’ Braning says. “What is does is it prohibits your government from discriminating against you with regard to your religious beliefs. That’s the bottom line.”
However, that same obligation does not apply to religious organizations or private business that provide marriage-related services, everything from photography to floral arrangements.
According to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, 68 percent of Mississippians said they support the measure. The law takes effect July 1st.