Mississippi Legislature puts governor on the spot with religious freedom bill

Story highlights

  • In a 69-45 vote, Mississippi's House passes a Senate version of a controversial bill
  • Bill: People can't be punished for making decisions based on "sincerely held religious belief"
  • Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, possibly could sign the bill next week

(CNN)Mississippi's Legislature became the latest to pass a so-called religious freedom bill, once again putting a Republican governor on the spot to either side with social conservatives or those who think such legislation amounts to discrimination.

The state's House of Representatives approved a Senate version of the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.
    State Rep. Jay Hughes, a Democrat, said he plans a last-ditch move to stop the House Bill 1523, but given the bill's support so far, it probably will go next week to Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, to sign or veto.
    Among other things, the legislation would allow businesses and religious groups to deny the LGBT community certain services such as counseling, wedding planning and adoption support. It would also protect those groups from punishment if they act "consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."
    As Bryant weighs what to do next, he can reflect on the actions and reactions of other Republican governors who have in recent weeks weighed similarly controversial bills pushed by social conservatives and opposed by LGBT advocates.

    North Carolina: 'Bathroom bill' signing stirs uproar

    State OKs transgender bathroom bill
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    There was no formal signing ceremony, no cameras. Rather, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory quietly put pen to paper on March 23 on House Bill 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.
    Then, the uproar began.
    McCrory tweeted Wednesday night that he believed the legislation -- which blocks cities from allowing transgender individuals to use public bathrooms for the sex they identify as, as well as more broadly restricting cities from passing nondiscrimination laws -- was needed. He pointed to a measure passed by the city of Charlotte that gave transgender people the OK to use the bathroom of their choice, among other things.
    "Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women's bathroom/locker room for instance," the governor tweeted.
    Some thought McCrory's actions were out of line. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina sued in federal court to try to get the state law declared unconstitutional and to be a violation of federal laws banning sex discrimination.
    Other governments have already taken aim at McCroy. The cities of San Francisco and Washington, plus the state of Connecticut barred state-funded travel to North Carolina because of the legislation.
    A number of big corporate names rooted in North Carolina -- including PayPal, Bank of America and Dow Chemical -- have denounced the law. It also has been floated that the NBA could move next season's All-Star game from Charlotte because of the bill.

    Georgia: A Republican governor cites faith, vetoes bill

    Georgia governor to veto 'religious liberty' bill
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    For all the businesses now leaning on McCrory, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal may have had even more.
    Twenty companies in the Fortune 500 -- an annual ranking of the most profitable U.S. businesses -- are headquartered in the Peach State, while 440 of those same companies have a presence there. And top representatives from many of them, from Delta CEO Ed Bastian to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank (a co-founder of Home Depot), spoke against the bill.
    Yet Deal said his resistance to the legislation stemmed not from any public pressure but his own Christian faith.
    Noting he's Baptist, the Republican governor said that, "We do not have a belief, in my way of looking at religion, that says that we have to discriminate against anybody."
    "I think what the New Testament teaches us," Deal added, "is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered outcasts."
    He elaborated on March 28 that he had vetoed HB 757 because he didn't think it was necessary.
    "I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives," Deal said.
    His decision, he said, was "about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people.
    "... I intend to do my part to keep it that way."

    South Dakota: Bathrooms not a 'pressing issue'

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    Before there was North Carolina, there was South Dakota.
    Both states have Republican governors. And both were considering bills that dictated what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.
    In the South Dakota case, the measure specifically required transgender students in the state's public schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their sex at birth. It passed the Republican-led Legislature.
    But, unlike McCrory, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who personally met with transgender students and their families while mulling what to do, ultimately said no.
    Explaining his March 1 veto, Daugaard said the legislation did not address "any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota" and expressed faith that local communities can make the "necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity."
    "This bill seeks to impose statewide standards on 'every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school,'" the governor added. "It removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate."
    While South Dakota didn't face the same kind of pressure (particularly corporate) as North Carolina or Georgia, the issue did get national attention. After Daugaard made his decision, he was cheered by advocates like Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, who said the governor "sent a clear message that discrimination is not a South Dakotan value."
    Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said, "Gov. Daugaard made the right call in vetoing this dangerous legislation, sparing South Dakota the risky and costly experiment of becoming the first state to mandate discrimination against transgender youth in violation of federal law and student privacy and well-being."