Either Gov. Phil Bryant has no idea what is happening in his own state—or he isn't being forthright about his motives for signing SB 2681, the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. After the Mississippi Legislature watered down the controversial bill—with language written intentionally to make it easier for businesses to discriminate against LGBT Americans and not be sued for it, as they can be for such treatment of Christians or people of color—Bryant signed it, while surrounded by radical-right religious leaders, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
The Associated Press quoted Bryant saying that claims that the law is anti-LGBT are "fictitious," along with his guarantee that it will not support anti-gay discrimination.
The problem with that statement is that men he invited to the signing of SB 2681 believe the exact opposite—and have pushed these kinds of bills across the country to make it easier for businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers. Many supporters have scaled back that rhetoric in recent months due to the outcry against it—but a radical-right group based in Mississippi, the American Family Association, admits right on its website what the amended, signed SB 2681 is about.
"The homosexual lobby is bitter against Governor Bryant's signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects Christian business owners against lawsuits from gay activists," the AFA says on its website, alongside an attack on local businesses that have placed a 'We Don't Discriminate' sticker in their windows.
The AFA is telling the truth here. The point of 2681-type laws has long been to protect businesses that discriminate from lawsuits. In fact, Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council (who attended Bryant's 2681 signing) along with the AFA co-founded an organization called Alliance Defending Freedom that fights gay marriage and LGBT rights across the country and supports such laws to help their cases (see jfp.ms/adfmedia).
Bryant also repeated the pro-2681 meme that the law is the same one the federal government passed decades ago under President Clinton. The part that he and others leave out is that much of the original federal law was later struck down. Thus, 2681 backers want enable state courts to allow discrimination in ways that federal courts may not.
Is Bryant naive or disingenuous about 2681? It seems likely he knows all this; after all, the radical-right lobby, including folks at the signing, put immense pressure on state legislators to pass the bill (see jfp.ms/retaliate). And if the governor is being dishonest about the intention of the bill, he will be revealed as such the very first time the law is used to justify discrimination against an LGBT Mississippian—and he isn't outraged about it.
Before that reckoning, the governor should explain himself now and apologize to Mississippians for supporting such an effort that harks back to the state's darker days—or at least own it and admit what the law is really about.
Mississippians must demand that explanation. Neither a naive or a dishonest governor will do.