Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed into law House Bill 1523, which allows circuit court clerks and business owners to refuse service to same-sex married couples based on religious beliefs.

Bryant’s signature on Tuesday comes after weeks of debate in both the House of Representatives and Senate, a combination of citizen backlash and support, promises of a lawsuit from civil liberty groups and condemnation from major businesses and corporations.

The bill, which states it “protects religious liberties” of those who would usually assist with same-sex weddings, such as photographers, pastors and wedding-related businesses, garnered national attention as Bryant’s decision loomed. The law goes into effect July 1.

Gov. Phil Bryant
Gov. Phil Bryant

“This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws,” Bryant said in a statement Tuesday morning. “It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances.”

As the bill sat on his desk awaiting signature, Bryant kept quiet about his decision, telling reporters he would “look at it like I do every piece of legislation.” His spokespeople also remained hushed about his decision, not returning multiple calls and emails from Mississippi Today and other outlets about the pending decision.

Bryant joined the J.T. Show on Supertalk radio just minutes after releasing the statement. He explained his reasoning for signing the law.

“(The perception of the law) is unfortunate,” Bryant said. “Believe me, this law protects everyone’s rights under the law, and that’s what I tried to do. I signed it to make sure that’s what we were doing – protecting the civil liberties of the faith based community while not discriminating against any other group. That’s the position we’re trying to land on.”

Countering majority support from lawmakers in both houses, there has been widespread criticism regarding the bill since the Senate passed it March 30.

Civil liberty groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi have said they will pursue legal action against the state now that the bill has passed.

Some legal scholars in Mississippi have called the potential lawsuit “easy to win.”

“This bill is incredibly unconstitutional,” said George Cochran, constitutional law professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “I think lightning will strike if this (bill) is signed into law.”

Nearly a dozen Mississippi businesses have released statements opposing it. Among these are AT&T, IBM, Levi Strauss & Co., Mass Mutual, MGM Resorts, Apple Computers, Hyatt Hotels, Nissan, Toyota and Tyson Foods.

Multiple protests have occurred across Mississippi the past two weeks, including one attended by approximately 200 people on Monday outside the Governor’s Mansion, in which people gathered to urge Gov. Phil Bryant to veto the bill.

As tension has mounted regarding the governor’s pending action on the bill, lawmakers and other supporters in the state have remained steadfast in their decision to pass the bill.

Rep. Andy Gipson
Rep. Andy Gipson Credit: Gil Ford Photography

“This is a bill that really does not discriminate against anybody,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton and co-sponsor of the bill. “Any same sex couple that wants to get married or whatever, they can do that. If you have a sincere religious objection to it, you can politely say, no I can’t do that without facing the fear of punishment by state government.”

The bill is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that upheld same-sex marriage, said Sen. Jenifer Branning, R-Philadelphia.

Branning discussed the bill on the Senate floor in late March. Backlash she received was so intense, she said, deleted her Facebook account. A practicing attorney herself, she has publicly defended the bill and says it is “absolutely constitutional.”

Before the bill was signed into law, the Mississippi Economic Council released a statement opposing the legislation: “As the State Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi business from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies or that would limit diversity and inclusion impacting their customers and employees.”

The Mississippi Manufacturers Association, concerned that the bill violates the diversity policies of many of its members and will harm Mississippi’s image, called for Gov. Bryant to veto the bill.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned nonessential state-funded travel to Mississippi after Gov. Bryant signed House Law 1523. Vermont also is banning official travel to Mississippi after passage of the law.

“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,” Bryant said in the statement.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.

18 replies on “Gov. Bryant signs controversial religious freedom bill into law”

  1. it’s also the government’s responsibility to prevent malicious actions against individuals as well, but to the MS legislature and governor, trans people are unworthy of such aid.

    1. Seek mental if you are trans, because it’s not going to matter WHICH physical body you are in, you’re NEVER GOING TO BE HAPPY, because YOU HATE YOURSELF.

      Mental defects cause this type of thinking.

      1. Cathy, you’re amazing! Have you ever left Mississippi, have you completed education above high school level and what do you do for a living? Just curious.

        1. I don’t live in MS. I’m fully educated, and a FORMER LIBERAL. So don’t try and bullshit me. Everything I said is a FACT. Can’t handle it, buy a chair and some rope.


          1. omg! I already have a chair and some rope! Now what? What does ‘killfiled’ mean? Oh, but you didn’t say what you do for a job?

          2. Dave, I think this person might believe that is how you design an airplane, given the lack of reason they’ve used in every other argument. ;-> Maybe it is how they change a country with a constitution they don’t like to one they can tolerate. Rope + Chair = No More Opinions They Can’t Tolerate!

          3. Argyles. It’s just…so…hard…to…resist. I’ve always wanted to know what these people are really like, with their caps lock and self-assuredness. But thanks for breaking my obsession.

  2. My religion prevents me from interacting with bigots, so, if you’re a Christian, right winger, conservative, or Republican, stay out of my shop.

    1. I’m none of the above, but I won’t do business with ANYONE who doesn’t support the CONSTITUTION. Religious FREEDOM IS/WAS PROTECTED BY THE CONSTITUTION, until GAY people started PERVERTING, AND CIRCUMVENTING that protection. In REALITY, those who REFUSE TO ALLOW RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – ARE THE BIGOTS-YOU.

  3. Section 3 of this bill says:

    The sincerely held relious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: […] (c) Male (man) or femal (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determine by anatomy and genetics at birth.

    In the case of a person with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, at birth the person is anatomically female, but genetically male. Who may this person marry? Which toilet shall he use?

    1. There are 2 sexes, male/female. If someone has a mentally defective brain that allows them to think otherwise, then they need MENTAL HEALTH help, NOT A SEX CHANGE.

      1. I suggest you study up on biology and medicine. You are not correct about there only being two sexes. In some cases doctors, not God, make the choice for a person. Do you feel these doctors are divine? Would that include Jewish and Muslim and Atheist doctors? Is God guiding them in their choices? Or do you just feel that we should all shout that everyone is born in one of two camps and that will make it all better?

        Maybe, just maybe, God knows that people can get sex change operations and is dealing with those people one on one. Maybe God doesn’t need you to go around stopping people from sinning. If you look in your bible you will see that Jesus suggests you leave the judgements to God. You are certainly entitled to your opinion about others, nobody said you have to like transgender people, but you are not entitled to legislate against them. Your religion doesn’t give you the right, in America, tot interfere with another person’s right to make their own choices. You would, perhaps, do better under a religious regime, such as the Taliban.

        1. Total bullshit. 2 sexes. PERIOD. Don’t like it, tough shit. As I said, anyone who thinks otherwise is MENTALLY ILL.

          1. Well, if you choose to be willfully ignorant, there is nothing I or anyone else can say to you. But, you are not making your point here. You are the one most people disagree with, so perhaps it is your own mental health that needs to be tended. After all, you continue to argue a point that makes no sense to anyone else. And I doubt seriously that any gay person has denied you the right to marry anyone you choose. I doubt they deny you bathroom rights nor flowers nor a hotel nor a cake. What the US government is denying you is the right to discriminate against them. And if you are doing that without religious provocation, which I admit you never mentioned, then I feel even sorrier for you.

          2. Bullsht. You sre so fked in the head. Seriously. Get a lobotomy. There are TWO SEXES. MALE AND FEMALE. Let me know when human body V2.0 with interchangeable parts comes out. Until then, you, and people like you, will CONTINUE to be the FREAKS everyone HATES, and makes fun of.

            Killfiled for being bat sht crazy insane.

        2. One more thing. I’m not religious at all. Additionally, you say that;

          “Your religion doesn’t give you the right, in America, tot interfere with another person’s right to make their own choices.”

          But, it DOES give GAYS the RIGHT to force others to do things THAT THEY CHOOSE NOT TO DO, RIGHT? Like bake a fking gay WEDDING cake? WHAT about THEIR CHOICES? You IGNORE THEM, so I WILL ignore some FREAK OF NATURE that THINKS THERE ARE MORE THAN 2 SEXES.


  4. When did religion stop being a personal journey to personal salvation and start declaring it was the only truth. Oh yea, at it’s inception. Religious folks should keep their hands and thoughts to themselves and walk their own religious path. If you don’t believe in gay marrriage don’t marry someone of the same sex, don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one, etc.

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