Mississippi could now legalize discrimination against people who have premarital sex
Surprised couple (Shutterstock)

The state legislature in Mississippi has now passed a bill to allow both public employees and private businesses to refuse to take part in gay marriages — but a whole lot of heterosexual people might be surprised at what's in the written text here.

The bill repeatedly states that "the state government shall not take any discriminatory action" against a person or religious organization for refusing to take part in objectionable marriages, adoptions, or certain other services (more on that later).

The bill's usage of the phrase "discriminatory action," however, is more like what laws in most states would describe as an action under anti-discrimination laws, such as "Impose, levy, or assess a monetary fine, fee, penalty or injunction," as well as other issues involving tax statuses, professional licenses, and state contracts.

But as this bill is actually written, though, a whole lot of people in Mississippi besides sexual minorities could face discrimination, too — like the vast numbers of people who have had sex outside of marriage.

Not to worry, though — they say they're really just thinking about the gays.

As reported in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: "Opponents of the bill say the bill could allow discrimination of those in the LGBT community and possibly single mothers, but [state Sen. Jenifer Branning, the lead Senate sponsor] said the bill deals only with same-sex marriage."

In addition to social services such as marriage and adoption, the bill protects any private business who refuses to provide "services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act."

So what is Section 2, and what are its ramifications? The actual text of the bill states:

"SECTION 2. The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

"(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

"(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

"(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth."

And from here, so much mischief could be done. Because while the bill specifies numerous social services provided by either state employees or private religious organizations — marriage and adoption, mainly — in all cases an employer or organization is broadly protected for having "a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act."

As written, despite the sponsor's statement that the bill deals only with same-sex marriage, a government employee could refuse to grant a marriage license to a couple who have had premarital sex — and who knows, they might even be able to ask the question, too.

So why include a section for people who believe that sex is reserved only for marriage? Most likely, that clause might have been intended to relate to other sections of the bill involving adoption and foster care services, as well as fertility services. But the key point here is that as written, any person could be refused a marriage from a government employee on any or all of the bases under Section 2.

And in other areas, when the bill here also specifies "psychological, counseling, or fertility services based upon a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act," a therapist might even potentially refuse counseling to a person whose personal morality does not measure up to the standard set under Section 2.

Some people even think that this bill could even authorize that "a corporation could fire a woman for wearing pants." But this author respectfully disagrees, based on the full legal context of the relevant language.

What the act actually says is:

"The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that the person establishes sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act."

Since sex-specific dress codes at a business are discussed here in relation to Section 2, what this actually refers to is forbidding a transgender person from dressing according to their internal identity — not just any old matter of a woman wearing pants. (After all, a person's mode of dress has nothing directly to do with marriage or sexuality — thus leaving gender identity as the only category left from the section.)

The law also forbids "discriminatory action" by the state against a person who "declines to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning" — but on the bright side, a clause soon afterward says that this shall not be construed to allow the denial of emergency medical services for sickness or injury.

So a transgender person who gets a broken leg is still to be provided medical care — at least on paper.