In early October, the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals refused to hear a case challenging Mississippi House Bill 1523 which had been signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in April 2016. HB 1523 is an extremely reactionary law that endorses discrimination against LGBTQ in employment, health care services, housing and family services such as adoption and foster parenting. Turning reality on its head the bill was entitled, “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”
The law affirms that a person’s or organization’s, ( i.e.,corporation’s), anti-LGBTQ religious beliefs allows them to deny a range of services and benefits to queer people. Organizations can deny marriage services to queer folk. Corporations can decide “whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization. Landlords, based on their religious beliefs, can deny housing to gay people. Foster care and adoption agencies can exclude LGBTQ people from consideration for fostering or adopting. Doctors and other medical providers cannot be prosecuted for denying medical services, treatment or counseling to transgender persons. Schools and business owners can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings.”
Who will this law directly affect? According to the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, Mississippi is home to 60,000 LGBTQ adults, 11,400 transgender youth and adults, and 3,500 same-couples, 29 percent of whom are raising children. In addition this law becomes a tool to straightjacket people into a narrow gender-conforming roles.
After the long, militant, grassroots struggle, marriage equality was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2015. While dealt a major setback, the anti-LGBTQ right-wing conservative movement did not give up. It shifted the struggle to push back LGBTQ equality to the state and local levels where it hopes to tear down the gains made nationally one locality at a time.
Using religion in an attempt to deny change or validate injustice is not a new tactic. The near extermination of the Native peoples of the Americas by the colonizers was done with the blessing of the Church. The Southern slave owners used Christianity to justify the treatment of African Americans as pieces of property. Bible-thumpers said the world would end if women were given the right to vote, divorce or own property.
More recently, those opposed to “miscegenation” or inter-racial marriage, said it would be the end of civilization if races were allowed to mix. Modern-day white nationalists and other racists use religion to justify sexist, racist and anti-LGBTQ ideology.
This bill is attempting to return Mississippi to the pre-Stonewall days of institutionalized state-sanctioned bigotry and violence. Marxists understand that one’s religious beliefs are not formed in a vacuum, but reflect the social conditions and relations under which those beliefs are formed. For instance, historically, Catholicism was used to justify the European conquest of Latin America. However, Catholic priests who were serving the poor in Latin America and saw on daily basis the injustices visited upon their parishioners by the capitalist system developed an ideology of resistance to oppression called liberation theology.
The legal battle against HB 1523 continues with the Campaign for Southern Equality and others are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review this exceptionally reactionary law with the hope it will be overturned. The best guarantee to have this bill see legal defeat is to build the kind of mass movement that won LGBTQ rights and most recently marriage equality. The Party for Socialism and Liberation can be found out in the streets with the LGBTQ community and its supporters organizing and resisting anti-gay bigotry and fighting for human liberation.