Gay people could be turned away by hotels, restaurants and pharmacies across Mississippi thanks to an expansive new religious freedom law approved by the state legislature, civil liberties campaigners have warned.
Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was abruptly taken up and passed by state legislators on Tuesday, Mississippi authorities are banned from placing a “burden” – such as the threat of legal action – on “a person’s right to the exercise of religion”.
The law, which is awaiting the signature of Republican governor Phil Bryant, was hailed as a triumph by socially conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, which opposes efforts to ensure that “homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law”.
“This is a victory for the first amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Tony Perkins, the group’s president, said in a statement. “This common-sense measure was a no-brainer for freedom.”
However, campaigners for gay rights and other civil liberties warned that the measure was little more than a carefully worded version of a law vetoed in Arizona earlier this year by governor Jan Brewer, which more explicitly gave businesses the right to decline gay customers.
A Jim Crow state updates Jim Crow for the 21st century.