Mississippi, long plagued by racial division and problems with poverty and education, has been too often a symbol of the Old Confederacy, and that’s not a good thing. Now, after enacting a law that will allow some private businesses to deny service to gay, bisexual and transgender people based on the religious beliefs of the business people, the state steps into the spotlight again — and steps back.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law quickly (a la North Carolina’s Pat McCrory on the now-infamous bill banning localities from legally prohibiting discrimination against such groups) and offered a weak defense. He said he was just protecting “religious beliefs and moral convictions” of individuals and organizations from discriminatory action by state government. Thus, he’ll open the state to constitutional challenges and a long court fight — as such a law is in effect a license to discriminate.
“Religious beliefs,” after all, already have the strongest protection there is, in the Bill of Rights. Beyond the blatant, gratuitous slap at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, the governor also risks that a state in need of as much economic stimulation as it can get will instead lose business. Just as business groups have threatened North Carolina with the sanctions of not doing business in the Tar Heel State, so they’re already raising their objections in Mississippi.
And so the state will learn the lessons of discrimination again — and again, the hard way.