Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on Tuesday signed into law a measure affording wide protections for actions considered discriminatory by gay rights activists.
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The far-reaching law allows people with religious objections to deny wedding services to same-sex couples. It also clears the way for employers to cite religion in determining workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom and locker access.
Bryant, a Republican, said in a statement that he signed the law "to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government."
His decision comes amid national protests over a new law barring transgender people in North Carolina from choosing bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Meanwhile, the governors of Georgia and Virginia vetoed similar "religious liberty" bills last week.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the Mississippi law, which it said is set to take effect in July.
"This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are," said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein)
Bryant posted this statement on Twitter:
"I am signing HB 1523 into law 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, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning. This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This bill doe snot limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws. It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the Legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances.The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived."