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Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant

JACKSON, Mississippi, April 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Defying the trend of Republican governors in other states, the governor of Mississippi has signed a law protecting people of conscience from being compelled to participate in same-sex ceremonies.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (H.B. 1523) yesterday, saying that the government may not compel religious organizations or individuals who have a sincere objection to take part in any homosexual couple's “wedding.”

“I am signing H.B. 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations, and private associations from discriminatory actions from state government or its political subdivisions,” Gov. Bryant said in a statement released this afternoon.

For instance, the state must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, individual state employees may ask for a recusal, provided someone else will do so and the “licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed.”

Gov. Bryant's decision comes just one week after business and entertainment companies lobbied Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to veto a similar bill. He ultimately hinted that the legislation did not align with the New Testament.

“Mississippians from all walks of life believe that the government shouldn’t punish someone because of their views on marriage. The people of Mississippi, from every demographic, support this commonsense ‘live and let live’ bill, which simply affirms the freedom of all people to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without threat of punishment from their own government,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek.

The Mississippi law codifies constitutional protections into state law. H.B. 1523 specifies that government officials cannot compel religious organizations to hire “an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization.” Nor may state government force religious groups that facilitate adoption or foster care to place children with homosexual couples.

Schools and privately held businesses may, if they wish, restrict “access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities” to members of the same biological sex.

Individuals cannot be forced to rent their homes or other dwellings to homosexuals, if they believe sexual activity outside traditional marriage is immoral. They may also refuse to take part in performing gender reassignment services.

Gov. Bryant said the bill “is designed in the targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived.”

The bill specifies that the state cannot force individuals to furnish “photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing or similar marriage-related goods or services, floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, assembly-hall or other wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewelry sales and services, or similar marriage-related services, accommodations, facilities or goods.”

Christians who believe marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman have faced legal retribution, including business-crushing fines, in states that lack such a law.

Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said, “This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality,” and branded the bill a “badge of shame.”

But Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Gov. Bryant deserves praise for safeguarding basic constitutional rights.

“Big Business and Hollywood have engaged in economic blackmail in Mississippi just like they have in Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas to try to force government discrimination of those who support natural marriage,” he said. “However, unlike Indiana and Georgia, leaders in Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas have chosen to defend the fundamental freedom of their citizens to believe and live according to those beliefs, rather than capitulate to the economic threats.”

“Long-term, political leaders who refuse to sacrifice fundamental freedoms under the threats of big government, Big Business, and big entertainment are rewarded with support of voters as their states find such policies promote stronger families, stronger communities, which lead to stronger economies,” he said.

The law's supporters say it is necessary to assure the free and robust expression of religion.

“You’re not free if your beliefs are confined to your mind,” Fiedorek said. “What makes America unique is our freedom to peacefully live out those beliefs, and the Constitution protects that freedom.”

The law takes effect in July.