Religious moral conviction is a powerful tool in politics. Last week, the Mississippi House of Representatives proved this by passing the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act." The bill aims to recuse state workers as well as religious institutions from doing their jobs if it goes against their "religious beliefs or moral convictions" that marriage should be a union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved in such a marriage, and that male or female refer to a person's biological sex based on anatomy and genetics at birth.
The so-called anti-discrimination act would shield the predominantly white, religious and straight people in the state who don't agree with the Obergefell U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage last June and decide to defy the law of the land. If the bill becomes law, it would also prevent the state government from taking "discriminatory action" against a state employee who engages in "expressive conduct" based on their religious beliefs, as well as foster care and adoption agencies. So while the act protects representatives like Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, who spoke before the House last Friday in support of the legislation, it allows those same people to not perform duties for or provide services to the LGBT communities. Rep. Eubanks asked if he had rights or if he was to be silenced because of his beliefs. "Who's infringed upon here? Is it the Christian, or is it the person who makes a lifestyle choice?" he asked the House.
This legislation would give circuit clerks the power to be Kim Davis without jail time or a public-relations nightmare. It would let bakers who serve the public refuse to put two grooms on top of a wedding cake and state foster-care workers not give children to same-sex couples.
Essentially, the bill would be a large step backward for the LGBT community in the state, and for human rights in general. Just because the state rejects a national precedent does not give government permission to legislate conservative religious morals into law. A religious moral conviction does not excuse the state from following federal law and precedents. Kim Davis went to jail because she did not comply with the law as it applies to her job. Allowing state officers and agencies to act on religious conviction above what federal and state law mandates is a dangerous road to go down.
Rep. Edward Blackmon, D-Canton, spoke out against the bill saying it discriminated against our neighbors, friends and family members.
"People become who they are because God has made them who they are. And now we're using religion in the name of God to discriminate against these individuals," he told the House.
The House passed the bill by a vote of 80-39, and while it was held on a motion to reconsider, that's an awful large vote in favor for what Blackmon called an "anti-human being piece of legislation." In a state that should be focusing on how to fund failing infrastructure, building and attracting a strong work force, public education and a new division to run foster care, legislating religious morality and discriminating against some of its own citizens is a terrible idea and, quite frankly, a waste of time.