A gay rights movement has the potential of taking off from a somewhat unlikely area: a group of small businesses in Mississippi. The movement comes in light of Mississippi state legislation that could allow businesses to openly discriminate against homosexuals based on religious grounds. In late April, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a short provision into law which said the state could not significantly burden people’s religious freedom unless there was a compelling reason. Effectively, this means if business owners did not want to serve people on the grounds of religious belief, they would not be required to do so by the state’s law. Although the provision aims to protect Christians’ religious rights, it could make it very difficult for people in non-traditional families to go about their lives. Here are some details about the legislation, as well as how people are fighting back.
The Claim of Religious Freedom
A significant amount of religious freedom legislation has recently been filed around the country. These laws don’t always involve gay rights, either. Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain owned by Evangelical Christians, is actually suing the federal government because it feels Obamacare infringes on its religious rights. Hobby Lobby does not feel it should have to cover all types of birth control in its employee health insurance packages because the company disagrees with birth control on religious grounds.
The store cites the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which overturned the 1990 case of the Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith. This case originally decided it was acceptable for Native Americans in Oregon to be fired from their jobs and denied unemployment because they had smoked peyote as part of a religious ceremony. Hobby Lobby is claiming it counts as a person under the RFRA and therefore should not have to provide birth control health benefits. The state of Mississippi is essentially saying the same thing about its businesses, except they can deny service people whose lifestyles they don’t agree with based on religion.
Religious Freedom versus Discrimination
Many people are upset with Mississippi’s provision. On one hand, it’s no secret that Mississippi is a politically conservative state. According to a Public Policy poll done in 2013, 69% of the state’s residents do not agree with gay marriage. However, 66% also do not believe businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay couples. They feel religious freedom cannot justify intentional discrimination.
This is for good reason, as the ramifications could be far-reaching when the provision is enacted this summer. In some places, gay couples have been denied wedding cakes and photography services because the businesses did not agree with the lifestyle. Who’s to say the discrimination will stop there? Could companies also refuse to do construction jobs to fix a gay couple’s house? If people went along with the provision it could become virtually impossible for LGBT people to live their lives.
“If You’re Buying, We’re Selling”
Businesses and individuals around the state are speaking out against the provision. In support of gay rights, many small businesses have posted round blue stickers in their windows displaying the words “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.” The grassroots organization has shipped over 3,000 stickers.
Support for “If You’re Buying…” isn’t limited to Mississippi. The organization has gained a lot of momentum and has supporters around the country. Its website lists businesses who have shown their support and while most of the listings are for Mississippi, there are some from South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama. Support isn’t limited to the south either. Businesses in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Ohio and even California have donated to the campaign. Chefs in New York City have also turned a Mississippi-themed picnic in Central Park into a protest dinner. The hope is if enough people speak out against Mississippi provision, it will be overturned. A number of gay couples also plan to turn the law on its head and sue the state, saying it’s their religious right to get married.
What do you think about Mississippi’s legislation? Does religious freedom justify discrimination? Could the provision have backfired by igniting such a widespread gay rights movement?