Burning Mississippi

On December 12, 2014, I wrote that, “Religious liberty exemptions laws are a slippery slope and one needs to ask where does it reasonably end? The religious right and those elected officials who kowtow to them will do all they can to stop the facilitation of same-sex marriage and will use every opportunity they can to set back any progress we have achieved over the last 49 years.”

Flash forward to this week where we find the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversing a federal trial court’s decision halting the implementation of one the harshest anti-gay laws in the country, Mississippi HB 1523, aka, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, ruling that LGBTQ+ plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge a Mississippi measure that allows for discrimination based on a person’s religious beliefs.

In his decision, Judge Jerry Smith wrote that the plaintiffs could not prove they’d been injured by the law. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the new anti-LGBTQ+ statute, which dictates that the state government shall not take any “discriminatory action” against those who deny employment, housing, or the placement of foster or adoptive children to LGBTQ+ people because of “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

“None of these plaintiffs has clearly shown an injury-in-fact, so none has standing,” Smith wrote. “Under this current record, the plaintiffs have not shown and injury-in-fact caused by HB 1523 that would empower the district court or this court to rule on its constitutionality,” Smith added.

The plaintiffs claimed the law endorses specific religious beliefs in violation of the Establishment Clause and that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it provides different protections for residents based on those beliefs.

What does this new law allow?  Businesses can now refuse service to LGBTQ+ people and employers can fire (or refuse to hire) workers because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Adoption agencies, private and taxpayer-funded, can turn away same-sex couples and trans people and landlords can evict renters for being LGBTQ+, and medical professionals can refuse to treat LGBTQ+ patients while clerks and judges can refuse to marry same-sex couples.  Schools can exclude trans students from bathrooms that align with their gender identity and discriminate against all LGBTQ+ students.

While discrimination becomes codified in Mississippi against us we can only wait now for one of two things to happen.  One, the case goes up to the U.S. Supreme Court, or two, someone is denied services, employment, or housing because they are LGBTQ+.

Meanwhile, Mississippi has made it clear, “NO LGBTQ+ WELCOME!”

How should we make it clear that we as a people will not be subject to such laws?  A national boycott like the one held in North Carolina could be effective. But unfortunately, I hear no outcry here like we did in North Carolina.

What about sit-ins at discriminatory businesses?  These have proved very effective in drawing national attention to issues.  Are we as a community strong enough for such action though?

Whatever happens next, we need to be mindful of these Religious Liberty laws springing up across the county.  Unless we stop them here our advancement will be set back 50 years.  Let Mississippi be our line in the sand!

Click HERE to read this week’s issue of QUEERtimes Weekly

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