That Anti-Gay Arizona Bill? Miss. Just Passed Its Own

It's been toned down a bit, but not enough for the ACLU

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 2, 2014 12:39 PM CDT

(Newser) – Remember the religious freedom bill that was eventually vetoed amid claims of being anti-gay in Arizona? Well, Mississippi just passed its own very similar bill yesterday, the Washington Post reports. The bill could allow people to sue if they think a law places a significant burden on their religious freedoms, and opponents are concerned it could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (One religious activist responded to the bill's passage by saying it could protect "a wedding vendor whose orthodox Christian faith will not allow her to affirm same-sex 'marriage.'") The legislation was recently toned down—some language that civil rights groups had a problem with was removed—but the ACLU says it still opposes the bill. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant had promised to sign an earlier version of the bill.

As for what the bill says, exactly, it's rather "cryptic," writes Mark Joseph Stern at Slate—and that's precisely why it's dangerous. The bill "cleverly couches its animus in seemingly neutral language," and has the intended effect of ending up as "a bill so broad and opaque that no court could possibly quibble with the constitutionality of the text alone," Stern writes. That will make it more difficult for a court to potentially strike it down. Stern goes on to explain why the bill is disturbing: It has the potential to keep the government from being able to protect LGBT people from discrimination. "A landlord need only insist that renting to gay people 'burden[s] [his] exercise of religion,' and a city ordinance banning anti-gay housing discrimination would be suddenly unenforceable." An ACLU rep points out to MSNBC that the bill "exposes virtually every branch, office, and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend."

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant urges lawmakers to fund a state trooper school to boost the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol's depleted ranks at the state Capitol, Feb. 26, 2014, in Jackson, Miss.   (AP Photo/The Clarion-Ledger, Joe Ellis)
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