JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant says the "secular, progressive world" vented at him for signing a bill that would let clerks cite religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Republican governor spoke in Washington as the conservative Family Research Council gave him an award last Thursday for signing House Bill 1523 this year and a similar one in 2014 called the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"About 60 days ago, it seemed as if all of the secular, progressive world had decided they were going to pour their anger and their frustration — their friends in the media willingly joining with them to bring all that they could upon the governor of the state," Bryant said. "Hoping, first, that surely he wouldn't sign that bill if we could just draw enough editorial cartoons ... if we could condemn him enough, if we could get enough cameras in his office, if we could get people to go out and protest in front of the governor's mansion at night. We could get people to call him bad names — 'Oh, you know, he's from Mississippi so we can use that racist idea.'
"How dare them," Bryant said. "How dare them."
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins presented Bryant with the organization's first Samuel Adams Religious Freedom Award during a conference for pastors. Perkins — who attended a private ceremony where Bryant signed the 2014 bill — said the award is named for the American founding father known as the "last of the Puritans."
"Targeted by those who wish to advance a radical social agenda, Gov. Bryant has stood firm and unequivocal in defending religious liberty for the citizens of Mississippi," Perkins said, according to a video of the event posted to the Family Research Council website. "Inflexible in matters of truth yet committed to the welfare of his fellow man, Phil Bryant embodies the kind of leader Samuel Adams envisioned to sustain virtue in public life and freedom in public law."
Two legal challenges seek to block House Bill 1523 from becoming law July 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit May 9 on behalf of a gay couple from Meridian. State attorneys argued last week that the new law should go into effect. The ACLU responded Tuesday that the law will treat gay couples unfairly.
Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples filed papers May 10 seeking to challenge the new law by reopening their 2014 federal lawsuit that helped overturn Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage. State attorneys argue that the lawsuit should remain closed.
During his speech in Washington, Bryant asked whether critics believe people of faith will abandon "freedoms that our forefathers died for," including religious freedom.
"They don't know that Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages," said Bryant, who is United Methodist. "They don't know that if it takes crucifixion, we will stand in line before abandoning our faith and our belief in our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."