Leland and Bay St. Louis added their names to the growing list of Mississippi cities speaking out against the state’s “religious freedom” law.
Leland’s city council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house and legislature to “promptly repeal this discriminatory act.”
“It just never should have happened, and it needs to be repealed,” said Nancy Jo King, a member of the Leland City Council, referring to the law.
In Bay St. Louis, the city council voted 6-0 to reaffirm a non-discrimination resolution protecting the gay, lesbian and transgender community originally passed in 2014.
“This law has created so much attention and singularized thinking, that we all thought it was best to reaffirm our position. We took it up two years ago, before anyone else, and it’s more important now than ever before,” said Bay St. Louis City Council member Lonnie Falgout.
Supporters of house bill 1523, officially titled the “Religious Liberties Accommodations Act,” say it gives business owners the right to refuse service to gay couples if doing so threatens their religious beliefs, but opponents argue it endorses discrimination of gays, lesbians and transgender Mississippians.
Bay St. Louis used its resolution to state a “commitment to diversity,” like the cities of Jackson, Greenwood and Natchez. But Leland’s resolution, like Biloxi’s before it, goes a step further by demanding state lawmakers repeal the controversial law before it takes effect in June.
Leland is home to the Jim Henson museum, which displays several rare items related to the Muppets creator. Last month, a California man who had donated several items to the museum wrote a letter to Gov. Phil Bryant threatening to pull the loaned items from the collection because of the law, a move that spurred Leland’s city council to draft this resolution.
“The exhibit is a big part of Leland, and the Jim Henson museum is, too, so we don’t want to lose that,” King said. “We need all the tourism and business we can get, every town in Mississippi does.”
King said she was also worried that the town’s Highway 61 Blues Museum and Wildlife and Heritage Museum, which is set to open in 2017, could be affected, as could the turnout at the town’s annual Frog Fest and Crawfish Festival.
“If it’s not repealed, it’s going to hurt our businesses; it will hurt the festivals, I know it will,” King said.
Falgout, however, said tourism was not a primary concern for Bay St. Louis’s council members when deciding to reaffirm the 2014 resolution.
“It’s based on what Bay St. Louis is noted for, whether you have a summer home, whether you have a permanent home, everybody is welcome here. Everyone always has been, always will be, and that will never change,” Falgout said.
Council member Wendy McDonald had intended to propose a new resolution addressing the law, but she was critically injured in a car accident Monday and unable to attend the meeting, according to Falgout.
“She had some ideas that she wanted to share, and out of respect we didn’t go into it without her there,” Falgout said.
But members of the community had been asking the city council to address the issue, according to council member Doug Seal. So they decided they would reframe the 2014 resolution to reaffirm their “position of non-discrimination” in light of house bill 1523.
Seal said the vote, taken around 11 PM on Tuesday night, was greeted with a standing ovation.