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Mississippi Needs to Move Back into the 21st Century

by Jacqueline Stoughton

Despite the fact it’s now 2016, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a bill last week allowing businesses to refuse their services to gay couples based on their religious beliefs and objections.

Many have expressed opposition due to concerns that this could effect the success of their businesses and distort future potential economic opportunities for the state – which is a genuine concern, but what about the concern that this bill is infringing upon basic human rights?

This new Mississippi state law says it is to “sincerely help religious beliefs or moral convictions.” This includes defining marriage as to be only between a man and a woman and that sexual relations should be reserved for marriage only. The new law, set to go into effect on July 1st of this year, goes on to define gender as being “determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” Giving the right to businesses to determine who can have access to bathrooms, dressing and locker rooms.

“This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizens of this state under federal or state laws,” said Bryant to the Washington Post. “The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived.”

Last year we finally saw the Supreme Court rule marriage equality in all 50 states, with growing acceptance as a new generation takes over. It’s sad to think we still live in a world where people have to use their religion to mask their inhuman prejudices, and use as a loophole to take away basic human rights from others.

“This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, in a statement to The Washington Post. “This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty.”

This goes against the separation of church and state. We should never involve this much religion as a basis for creating a law that will only effect others. Forcing a religion on someone, that not everyone follows is beyond wrong. When it comes to LGBTQ and basic human rights in general, this country has come a long way – but Mississippi is seriously disrupting that progress.

This is similar to the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that gave justice to Hobby Lobby and other family owned companies to opt out of the Affordable Care Act provision that covers prescription contraception, on the grounds of religious objections and freedom. This put many women’s health at risk – because believe it or not, women go on birth control for many other reason than to have pre-marital sex.

It’s time for governments to stop using religion as an excuse for creating audacious laws. Preventing women from getting contraceptions they need, or denying basic human needs based on who someone else loves, is nothing any state or national government should be proud of.