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‘Anti-Gay’ Bill In Mississippi Legislature Faces Tuesday Deadline

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 02 Feb 2014 03:08pm | comments

A bill that some say could lead to legal discrimination of gay Mississippi is facing a Tuesday deadline. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week. As MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports senators thought it was designed to protect religious freedom.

The bill drew heavy backlash after a similar bill passed in Arizona that legal experts say would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds.

The bill's author Senator Phillip Gandy of Waynesboro says his only goal was to protect religious Mississippians from government actions limiting religious freedom.

"It had no one in mind as far as harming anyone. It is just simply, as a person of faith myself, it is a recourse that I could use to shield myself against something that might be forced upon me," Gandy said.

The bill passed unanimously but many Senators have since walked back their support.

Senator Gandy and others say they do not think the Mississippi bill and the Arizona bill are similar.

However, Mississippi College School of Law professor Matt Steffe says the bills are very similar.

"There are far more similarities with the Arizona law than there are differences. In its application to private conduct, that is private business corporations doing business with potential customers, I think it is exactly like Arizona and unlike other state's (religious protection" laws," Steffe said.

The bill is now before a house committee which is considering narrowing its scope to bring it in line with existing laws in other states.

Representative Charles Busby of Pascagoula, who is on the committee, is doubtful that the bill will be brought back up before the Tuesday deadline at all.

"I just don't think it is something that is necessary. Can we make an argument for making sure people's religious rights are protected? Certainly you can make that argument. But that is that really what this is doing? Are we really keeping people from exercising their religious rights already," Busby said.

The issue is complicated by another factor....language to add 'in god we trust' to the state seal is attached to this bill, which greatly increases the political cost to legislators if it dies.

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