April 1, 2016 10:46:55 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is not yet saying whether he would sign a bill that would let government workers and private businesspeople cite religious beliefs to deny services to gay or lesbian couples.
The Mississippi bill is similar to one Georgia's Republican governor vetoed this week after big corporations said it could lead to discrimination.
"Gov. Bryant will review it if and when it reaches his desk," Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler said Thursday.
The final version of the bill is expected to clear the Mississippi House soon. Senators passed it 32-17 late Wednesday, and Republican Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, one of its sponsors, said he will recommend that the House accept a change the Senate made.
Bryant signed a 2014 bill that says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices. Like the bill this year, it was backed by conservative religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage.
Mississippi is one of 10 states this year with bills responding to last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Nissan North America has 6,000 workers at a manufacturing plant in central Mississippi. Responding Thursday to questions about the bill, company spokesman Josh Clifton said: "It is Nissan's policy to prohibit discrimination of any type, and we oppose any legislation that would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals."
Toyota, with about 2,200 employees in north Mississippi, doesn't have a position because it's still examining the bill, company spokeswoman Kathryn Ragsdale said Thursday. She said: "Toyota does not condone discrimination in any form and believes that inclusive treatment of all people is good for the workplace, marketplace and society as a whole."
Mississippi Economic Council opposed the 2014 bill. President and CEO Blake Wilson said the organization has not fully vetted the current bill, but its basic position hasn't changed.
"As the state Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi businesses from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies impacting their customers and employees," Wilson said Thursday.
Opponents said the proposal could lead to mistreatment of LGBT people in a state that lacks laws to protect people from being fired because of sexual orientation.
The bill says a circuit clerk could deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple but would have to take "all necessary steps" to ensure a license is not delayed. However, legislators have not explained what happens if all employees of a clerk's office cite the same religious objections.
It also says the state could not punish businesses that refuse to sell goods or services to same-sex couples or religious groups that refuse to let gay or lesbian people be foster or adoptive parents. And, it says the state could not punish anyone for acting on a belief that a person's gender is unchangeable from birth -- a provision aimed at preventing transgender people from using a restroom or spa for the gender with which they identify.
The House voted 80-39 for an earlier version of the bill in February. Gipson, an attorney and Baptist minister, said he's hearing from pastors and others around the state who support it.
"Businesses that are in Mississippi, part of the reason they are here is we have a committed, devoted workforce that includes our people of faith," Gipson said.
Democratic Rep. Kathy Sykes of Jackson, who opposes the bill, said clerks and judges should abide by the Supreme Court's marriage ruling.
"I have family members who are part of the LGBT community," Sykes said Thursday. "I certainly do not want them to be discriminated against in any form or fashion."
Online: House Bill 1523, http://bit.ly/1Mq4DyE .
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