Mississippi's so-called religious liberties bill is gaining national attention, and Pine Belt lawmakers and pastors for and against the bill are explaining their positions.
"Mississippi is probably the most Christian state in the United States," said Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, pastor of Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church. "We are called the Bible Belt, but you couldn't tell it by this bill.This bill gives the appearance that hate is holy. Rejection is holy. If I reject certain lifestyles, if I reject certain people, if I turn them away, then I'm holier or I'm more Christian. Or my beliefs are more authentic. That is simply untrue."
While Dear said the bill promotes discrimination of LBGTQ Mississippians, Sen. Joey Fillingane, who voted for the bill, said it is drafted to prevent discrimination.
"The reason I voted for it was to protect private individuals from government discrimination because if the government can come in and tell you as a pastor who you have to marry, as a church who you have to rent your fellowship hall to or as a florist or a baker or a DJ that you've got to provide services or else be sued under the color of state law, I think that is discrimination in and of itself," Fillingane said. "I can see how people on the other side would try to link this type of bill to discrimination because they have been discriminated against in many instances in other parts of the country and even here in Mississippi. I think what this law does though is it says discrimination is not right, but it's not right to discriminate against the provider of services either."
Fillingane said the bill is narrowly written to only apply to same-sex marriages, unlike similar bills in other states that he said were written more broadly.
"This one is very, very narrowly tailored," he said. "You're not going to have this bill applying to any situation outside of the realm of same-sex marriage. That may not be enough to save it if it's challenged, but I can tell you with an eye toward individual challenge, the drafters of this bill bore that in mind. (They) very narrowly created this specific bill for that specific instance."
Dear said, "It's vulgar. The entire thing is vulgar. The thought of rejecting people, the thought of turning people away, the thought of not issuing a marriage license, the thought of sending a child to reparative therapy because you believe they may be gay, that is repulsive. It's repulsive. The entire thing. There's nothing in it that is Christian. There is nothing in it that is Christ-like, and there is nothing in it that I would call holy."
Fillingane said he knows other states with similar laws have seen backlash from businesses because of those laws. However, he said he has not seen that kind of reaction here.
"We have a culture very deep in the Bible Belt, and we, the majority of us, have very strongly held religious beliefs that affect some of these issues," Fillingane said. "At the same time, we live in a global society, and we are competing on a global basis for industry and jobs and manufacturing. There are certain things that we have to consider along those lines as well. I think what you saw Thursday was the will of the constituents overriding maybe any risk that we might face in the future, but to be quite honest with you, we haven't heard from any of those entities that we might hear from in the future. Clearly, in some of these other, larger southern states, like Georgia and North Carolina, there is a push back coming from the business community. We haven't seen that here yet, which is not to say we won't."
Dear said, "This bill shames Mississippi again. We have tried so hard to get into the 21st century and to overcome our past. The past of discrimination. This cycle, this vicious cycle of discrimination that's been going on for centuries now. When people from outside of the state look in and they see the issues with the flag, they see these bills and things like this, they're not going to want to come to our state."
Fillingane said another difference in Mississippi's bill is an accommodation clause that says unwilling participants must find someone who is willing to provide same-sex couples the services they want.
"If any of these people that are listed or mentioned in the bill, like a circuit clerk or a pastor or whoever, that doesn't want to participate, they're required under this law to make accommodations and try to find someone who will accommodate," he said. "So if you're a circuit clerk, under this bill, it's OK for you to refuse to sign it (a marriage license), but you're required to find someone else in your office who will."
Dear said, "All religions have one thing in common, and it's love. It's treating others the way you would have them treat you, and this bill, discrimination in the name of religion, makes no sense."
The bill is now waiting on action from Gov. Bryant. Fillingane said he expects the governor to sign it into law, and Dear is hoping he is wrong.
"He can absolutely veto this bill," she said. "I ask him sincerely. I know he's a man of faith. He professes to be a Christian, and I ask him to be like Christ, and veto this bill. Jesus Christ would not sign this bill. Jesus Christ would never do the things that this bill allows faith-based Christianity to do in the name of religion. We have to come back to the word, and we have to come back to love. This bill is not Christian, and it is not about love."