Gay Rights
A married gay man carries the rainbow and U.S. flags at a celebration rally in West Hollywood, California, after the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, June 26, 2015. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Wading into a bitter national debate, Mississippi’s Legislature passed a bill Friday that would let people and businesses who assert religious objections deny marriage licenses and other services to same-sex couples based on their moral convictions. Opponents argue the so-called religious freedom bill allows for open discrimination against the LGBT community.

“It’s time that we stand up and do the work of the people and protect the freedoms that they enjoy,” said a sponsor, Republican Rep. Andy Gipson, Reuters reported. Gipson urged fellow lawmakers to support the measure despite widespread national criticism. The measure passed by a 69-45 vote, CNN reported. It previously passed the state Senate.

Officially known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” the bill will head to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to either sign or veto (unless a last-ditch House motion reverses it). The language of the bill specifically targets same-sex couples, stating in part that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman,” NPR reported.

The bill covers religious organizations and protects them if they refuse to perform a marriage or provide other services to a same-sex couple. It also allows state employees who have moral objections to decline to perform same-sex marriages. In addition, the legislation allows employers to cite religious reasons for workplace policies such as bathroom access.

“This bill in no way allows for discrimination by one person against another. What it does is it prohibits your government from discriminating against you with regard to your religious beliefs. That's the bottom line,” argued Sen. Jennifer Browning.

But gay rights advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, dispute Browning’s assessment of the bill.

“We urge Gov. Bryant to do the right thing – reject discrimination, and veto this harmful measure when it reaches his desk,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The so-called religious freedom bill comes after the Supreme Court’s decisions last year declaring a nationwide constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples. Last week Georgia’s governor refused to sign a similar bill. A federal judge in Mississippi struck down a ban preventing same-sex couples from adopting children Thursday.