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Members of the Mississippi branch of the ACLU and other protest the proposed Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.

Some 30 protesters gathered around noon Tuesday on the southern steps of the Capitol building to rally against a House bill aimed at allowing individuals, religious organizations, businesses and public employees to deny services based on religious conscience.

For example, the bill would allow a county clerk to deny a marriage license to a gay couple because of the clerk’s religious beliefs.

The bill, which has passed the House, protects certain “religious beliefs” which are enumerated as marriage being the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are reserved to such marriages and that an individual’s “immutable biological sex” is determined by “anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

“We oppose the bill because it would allow religion to be used for discrimination,” said Zakiya Summers, director of communications for the ACLU. Summers emphasized that when the state prefers one set of beliefs over others — everyone loses.

“When you talk about discrimination against one group of people, you have to remember that that it could be anyone,” Summers said. “They are people who would have a job otherwise, but now lose the ability to feed their families. It’s not just a gender identity or sexual orientation issue. This affects everyone living in Mississippi, contributing to its economy. Discrimination is bad for business.”

“LGBTQ citizens are already disenfranchised,” Rob Hill of the Human Rights Campaign said. “In Mississippi you can be fired from your job, denied housing, and denied business services and with no title seven protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, this protects discrimination from legal recourse.”

Around 12:30, senators walking to lunch were met with protestors screaming, “No hate in our state.”

Sen. Charles Younger, R-Lowndes and Monroe turned back and shouted at them: “We haven’t voted on it yet!”

The Mississippi bill would go a step further to allow individuals, religious organizations, businesses, and public employees to deny services based on religious conscience.

The bill still has to make it through the Senate and receive the signature of the governor before it is the law of the state. Question still remains on how much the legislation will cost the state if it is contested through the courts. As of today, HB 1523 sits as sixty-eighth on the Senate’s schedule. The date it will come to the floor has not been announced.

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