Protests set for Mississippi law that’s seen as anti-gay

other_state_newsBy Emily Wagster Pettus

Associated Press

JACKSON – At a leafy college campus in north Mississippi and an upscale dinner club in New York, groups are protesting a Mississippi law that opponents say could sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in April, and becomes law July 1.

The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices without a compelling reason. It does not mention gays or lesbians, but critics fear it will provide justification for business owners who oppose homosexuality to refuse services to same-sex couples.

One protest is expected Saturday when the governor speaks at the University of Mississippi’s graduation in Oxford. Organizer Kevin Cozart said he has distributed more than 350 lapel stickers with a rainbow-striped map of Mississippi and a quote from the university creed: “I believe in respect for the dignity of each person.”

Cozart is a graduate student and former adviser to UM Pride Network, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. He said students, faculty members and some administrators have requested stickers to express low-key opposition to the law.

“People that I didn’t expect to get involved are asking for stickers,” Cozart said.

Bryant spokeswoman Nicole Webb said she does not expect the protest to be disruptive.

“The students and the families at the university have always been hospitable, and we expect they would continue to be,” she said.

A second protest is June 13, when chefs from Mississippi and other places will participate in the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table at City Grit, a private dinner club in New York. The dinner was organized to show opposition to the religious restoration act, and it’s being held the night before the 35th annual Mississippi picnic in Central Park, where state promoters serve fried catfish and sweet tea.

“Our intention with this dinner is not an antagonistic one. What we wanted to do is send a very clear message to the rest of the world that Mississippi is not looking backward,” Oxford restaurateur John Currence said. “Mississippi is about acceptance. Mississippi is about inclusion and understanding.”

‘If you’re buying, we’re selling’

The protests come weeks after gay rights supporters launched another protest with hundreds of Mississippi businesses posting window stickers with the slogan: “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.”

Bryant won praise from national conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, by signing the legislation supported by Pentecostals and Southern Baptists. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins traveled from Washington to Jackson for a private bill signing ceremony in the governor’s office.

Bryant said the Mississippi act mirrors a federal law President Bill Clinton signed in 1993 and that 18 other states have enacted since the mid-1990s. The governor also said he does not believe Mississippi’s law will lead to anti-gay discrimination.

Currence, a New Orleans native, has worked in Mississippi for 22 years. He said gays and lesbians contribute to the state’s creative economy.

Currence said Bryant and his staff have been invited to the $95-a-plate dinner, which is raising money for Pride Network at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. Webb would not say whether the governor will attend.

“The governor is focused on storm recovery and the Mississippians who lost their lives during a deadly outbreak of severe weather, not on a dinner in New York City,” she said.

Chef Art Smith is among those participating in the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table. He has restaurants in Washington and Chicago and is a former chef for Mississippi native Oprah Winfrey.

Smith, a Florida native who married his husband on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial four years ago, said he believes the Mississippi law does not represent the will of most people in the South.

“It’s important that we think about the future, think about how these laws have been created to clearly discriminate against the LGBT community,” Smith said. “Whenever they say that they don’t — I don’t believe them.”

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  • barney fife

    … The governor also said he does not believe Mississippi’s law will lead to anti-gay discrimination …
    Somebody want to remind Phundie Phil that you go there for lying as well as stealing?

  • 1941641

    “Fundie’ Phil Bryant who is known to hangout with two of the worst Homophobes in Modern History, Tim Wildmon and Tony Pekins is a governor who, in my book, cannot be trusted to tell the truth according to the company he keeps. Sue him and the state concerning the ramifications of this new legislation before it becomes law. Then, take it from there.

  • VocalCoach

    Business owners have every right to offer or refuse service to anyone they choose. They pay taxes and vote just like the rest of us. The problem is people who blow this stuff completely out of proportion. Don’t get me wrong, I have several friends who are gay and love them like brothers and sisters but what everyone is missing is that this is a bill that gives business owners the backing to say “hey, I don’t believe in homosexual unions/marriages so I would rather not take part in it.”

    • 1941641

      GLBGT people “pay taxes and vote” too! And they are American Citizens with the same rights that homophobes have. Some well-known Homophobes around our area are tax-exempt! Get a life!

    • barney fife

      Everybody’s money spends. I’ll spend mine in establishments featuring the :“We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.” signs in their windows.
      If there’s a business out there that can seriously afford to turn away paying customers, I’ve yet to see it … and I’m into my 6th decade on this planet.

    • LeftinMS

      “Business owners have every right to offer or refuse service to anyone
      they choose. They pay taxes and vote just like the rest of us.” – Can they refuse service to blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians, etc too?

    • FrereJocques

      Following up on what LeftinMS posted: So you support what the Woolworth’s Store in North Carolina did in 1960 when he refused to serve black people at the lunch counter? Yes or No?

      Do you realize how big of an imbecile this make you look?

      You can’t have it both ways.