Nondiscrimination ordinance passes in Mississippi city

map_of_bay_st.louis_ms“As an elected official, we should not and must not discriminate against anyone,” said Joey Boudin before voting for a nondiscrimination resolution that passed unanimously Tuesday.

Boudin is a city councilman. From New York? L.A.? No, he’s the Ward 5 Councilman from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

This is the sixth Mississippi city to pass a similar ordinance this year after Starkville, Hattiesburg, Greenville, Magnolia and Oxford, according to the Biloxi Gulfport Sun Herald.

Bay St. Louis resident Pat Robinson said, “It sends a very clear-cut message to everyone — particularly the gay youth — that everyone is valued in the Bay. We don’t discriminate against gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.”

The ordinance follows the recent signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bans the state from doing anything to limit the practice of religion. Apparently, in Mississippi, religious groups were being prevented from fully practicing their religious beliefs.

Like 150-year-old Beth Israel Congregation, the large Reform synagogue in Jackson that some of my relatives attend. Rabbi Valerie Cohen has been prevented from performing same-sex weddings. I’m sure the “restoration” of her “religious freedom” will allow her to freely practice her Judaism and perform same-sex weddings at her temple.

—  David Taffet

Mississippi passes anti-gay hate law

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472The Mississippi Legislature passed an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill on Tuesday  similar to the one vetoed in Arizona. The law legalizes anti-gay discrimination as long as it’s done in the name of religion.

The bill that passed was rewritten after the Arizona bill was vetoed. The blatant anti-gay animus was removed. The new bill is simply written ambiguously so that there’s nothing unconstitutional about its wording. However, if anyone tries to use the law to justify discrimination, courts could strike it down as written only because of extreme animus against the LGBT community.

“The language still exposes virtually every branch, office and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Eunice Rho told MSNBC.

Wording of the bill is modeled after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That law, though, passed by a bipartisan coalition, was not intended to encourage discrimination or limit anyone’s civil rights.

The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

—  David Taffet

Miss. House passes anti-gay ‘religious freedom bill’

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472The Mississippi House voted 80 to 37 Wednesday evening to approve a dramatically altered “religious freedom” bill that simply calls for a joint House-Senate Judiciary committee to prepare a report “regarding proposed legislation that protects the religious freedoms of the citizens of the State of Mississippi.” The report is due Dec. 31.

The amended bill averted a vote on the bill originally sent to the House floor that would have allowed a person to discriminate against others by asserting he or she has a religious motivation for doing so. The Mississippi Senate had already passed a religious bias bill that went even further than the House version.

Now, the House and Senate conference committee must reconcile the two very different bills.

Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has expressed support for one section contained in each bill — putting “In God We Trust” into the state seal. But he has not been clear on whether he would sign a bill that allowed discrimination.

As the House bill came to the floor Wednesday, rumors began circulating there were not enough votes to pass it in the form in which it came to the floor. Rep. Andy Gipson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, proposed replacing the language concerning “religious freedom” in the bill with language forming a study committee to hold three hearings starting June 1. That amendment passed by voice vote. He then urged his colleagues that a “yes” vote on the newly amended bill would keep the original SB 2681 legislation “alive” for this session.

The Mississippi bill and others like it in other states are the latest sign that the clash between the freedom of religion and nondiscrimination laws continues to expand across the country.

There was considerable media attention last month when Arizona’s Legislature passed a similar measure, but Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it. At least five other state legislatures still have similar measures pending, but at least 12 other state legislatures have already killed, withdrawn or rejected similar measures.

Debate over the bills in various legislatures suggests they are largely motivated by a desire to allow an individual to express opposition to same-sex marriages by refusing to bake a wedding cake or provide wedding photography, but the bills are written in such a way that they create a gaping hole in human rights laws, enabling people to circumvent laws banning discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, sex and every other classification, including sexual orientation and gender identity. They also could enable a person to cite religious motivations in a wide range of activities, such as withholding medical care, refusing to pay back interest on a loan or denying service in a hotel or restaurant.

Supporters of the religious bias bills have repeatedly characterized them as being nearly identical to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and various state bills that have already been enacted.

But they’re not the same, and many lawmakers in most states appear to have grasped the difference.

The federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, said, “The government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless “it is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and represents “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The Act states “the term ‘exercise of religion’ means exercise of religion under the first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Boerne v. Flores, that the act was “a considerable congressional intrusion into the states’ traditional prerogatives and general authority to regulate the health and welfare of their citizens.”

A law enacted last year by the Kentucky legislature following an override of the governor’s veto is very similar to the federal law except that it adds the government may not burden a person’s religious beliefs indirectly through such means as “withholding benefits, assessing penalties or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.” That additional language would appear to be useful to a religiously run hospital that wanted to refuse same-sex partner visitation and still collect federal governmental support.

And there was considerable opposition to the Kentucky bill, opposition that expresses many of the same objections being heard to this year’s bills. The Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association said the bill could enable public employees to refuse certain assignments and “open the door to spurious claims by inmates” regarding their food, medical treatment and worship needs. The Kentucky League of Cities warned it could jeopardize the enforcement of laws of general applicability regarding health, safety and welfare. The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs said religious beliefs often have been used by family members to justify abuse of women and children and that this new law would make that easier. The Kentucky Human Rights Commission said the law could be used by members of one religion to deny housing to members of another religion, that a restaurant owner of one race could use it to deny service to a patron of another race. The Jefferson County Teachers Association said the bill would undermine public education because it could enable teachers to “refuse to teach important concepts.” And on and on. At least 13 other states adopted similar bills last year.

This year’s crop of “religious freedom” bills has gone quite a bit further. They have sought to make it possible for individuals or entities to claim their religious freedoms were being infringed upon by the government or by other individuals or businesses. And, by making such a claim, the proposed religious freedom law would give them an exemption to a wide range of laws and a cause of action to sue. In Arizona and Georgia, major corporations have spoken out against the proposals, saying they would make employment issues much more difficult.

In an apparent effort to avoid some of the controversy Arizona and Georgia faced from the business community, the Mississippi bill added that, “Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not a governmental agency.” And it limits “appropriate relief” for the person claiming religious burden to be sought only from “the state or a political subdivision of the state.” But the Mississippi bill also provides relief to a “person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened or is likely to be substantially burdened … .

Meanwhile, fallout continues in states that have dropped the bills. The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee held a marathon public hearing on why existing state law does or doesn’t provide adequate protection for religious freedom. In Georgia, where a religious freedom bill died in committee, supporters of the measure have vowed to mount a national boycott against major corporations — like Coca-Cola, Home Depot and UPS — for having expressed opposition to the measures.

In addition to Mississippi, there are still bills pending in Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Oregon, and there are school-specific variations still afloat in at least seven legislatures, including Oklahoma where one passed the House unanimously.

In other words, the fight against religious bias bills has the potential to continue for some time to come.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Mississippi judge refuses to grant gay couple a divorce

images-1JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi judge on Monday refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple who got married in California, saying the marriage wasn’t recognized under state law, according to the woman who filed and her lawyer.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who filed for the divorce in September in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, said in a telephone interview Monday that the judge seemed sympathetic and that she plans to appeal the ruling.

Czekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, said she was “a little bit disappointed.”

“I would have liked to have had the divorce, but either way he ruled, it was going to be appealed,” she said.

Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had argued that Mississippi can’t grant a divorce in a marriage it doesn’t recognize. Hood’s office said in a motion to intervene on Nov. 15 that Mississippi “has no obligation to give effect to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi’s expressly stated public policy.”

—  Steve Ramos

Is marriage equality coming to Mississippi?

The opinion page in one newspaper called February the gayest month in history. Its writer, Patrick Young, a graduate student in public policy and administration, said it best:

Whitney, a Madonna Superbowl, Mardi Gras, the return of “American Idol” and “The Voice.” Don’t forget the addition of another musical TV show, “Smash.” The Oscars, Grammys and about 2,304 other award shows made it to the airwaves.

Throw in any Adele song (What did radio ever play before we had her?) and that Kelly Clarkson car commercial that plays non-stop.

Is it safe to say February 2012 may have been the gayest month ever for the U.S.?

But that’s not why he believes that this month was the gayest month ever. He notes that three states passed marriage equality. He celebrates that his uncle and his partner who live in Maryland and have been together 40 years might soon get married.

What’s surprising about this editorial is that it appeared in the The Reflector — “the official online grind of Mississippi State University.”

He argues, “More people from both sides of the political spectrum are beginning to see marriage between two consenting adults has little effect on anyone but those involved in the nuptials.”

And he asks, “Is traditional marriage becoming queer? Yes. And it’s about damn time, Mississippi.”

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Response to ‘The Response’ begins

Riki Miller, Zombie McZee and Britney Miranda.

The responses to “The Response” are under way in Houston. First out of the gate was Friday night’s LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally.  Despite temperatures that had barely come down from the triple digits, Houstonians thronged to Tranquility Park in downtown. Beyond commenting on the temperature, the common theme of most of the speakers was that the American Family Association and Gov. Perry’s rally is not representative of Houston and is not welcomed.

Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said: “I kinda think Rick Perry chose the wrong city!”

He continued “They are the bigots, we are not … we are Houston.”

“I guess we should take comfort in the fact that, except for some of his staffers, [Gov. Perry] couldn’t find enough homegrown bigotry in the state of Texas to put on the event himself,” said Mike Craig, co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. “He had to bus them in from Tupulo, Miss., and Colorado Springs, Colo.” Craig was referring to American Family Association (based in Tupulo) and Focus on the Family (based in Colorado Springs), both co-sponsors of “The Response.”

State Rep.  Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, provided the closing address. He criticized Gov. Perry for using divisive religious rhetoric for political gain. “Being here today I’m proud that we are fighting back against a narrow, theocratic view of the world that we live in and of our country that says that people are not welcomed — that says that people are bad because of who they are. That is not America,” said Coleman. “That is what is dividing our city, our state and our country.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more coverage of the LGBT community’s response to “The Response.” More photos from the LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally below (click to enlarge):

—  admin

A Texas-sized legislative closet

As another legislative session gets under way in Austin, GayPolitics.com reports today that Texas is now one of only 18 states with no openly LGBT state lawmakers. California and Maryland are tied for the most openly LGBT lawmakers, with seven each. Four states have no openly LGBT elected officials at any level of government — Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Texas has had only one openly LGBT state lawmaker in its history — Democratic Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin, who served from 1991 until 2003.

Of course, with 150 people in the House and 31 in the Senate, it’s all but certain that a few Texas lawmakers are LGBT.

The reason we have no seat at the table is that the chairs are all stacked in the closet.

Anyone wanna help us get them out?

—  John Wright

Mississippi State Rep. tried to kill civil rights ed law because it’s ‘Accusatory Of One Group’

Did I mention that John Moore (R-Brandon) is a Republican? Silly me. I know the meme out there is that the GOP is trying to ignore the social conservatives when it comes to gays (see GOProud chasing FRC, and Porno Pete from CPAC). Even if that stretch is true, it’s not much of a big tent when a whole wing of the party is full of color-aroused dog whistles or flat-out naked racist bigotry. (Think Progress):

Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, has filed a bill to repeal the law nearly every year since 2006. Moore, who lives in a suburb of Jackson, said he wants to know who will write the textbooks and craft the materials students will be taught.

“I want schools to be teaching my grandchildren to read, write a complete sentence and do math,” Moore said. “I just want to make sure it’s teaching the truth and facts and not being accusatory of one group of people or the other. I don’t want it to be somebody’s philosophical idea of what civil rights are.”

In dismissing civil rights history as “somebody’s philosophical idea” about “one group of people,” Moore is articulating exactly why such curriculum is necessary. Indeed, Moore’s derision of civil rights is not just relegated to history. In considering current policy, Moore refused to support including sexual orientation in the state’s anti-discrimination laws and expressly rebuked any type of affirmative action. Future Mississippi policymakers may have a different perspective of discrimination if they understand its history from an early age.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Mississippi Sheriff’s Department Fired Corrections Officer For Being Gay. And It Finds Nothing Illegal About It

Because there is no federal or state law barring the firing of gays for being gay, the Forrest County Sheriff's Department in Mississippi believes it's perfectly in the clear for removing juvenile corrections officer Andre D. Cooley, who is suing the department with the ACLU's help, saying he was ousted in June when his supervisor found out he was in a relationship with another man after a domestic violence incident drew attention. Retorts the defendants, which include Sheriff Billy McGee, in a court filing that asks for a non-jury trial: Yeah, so?


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—  admin

MISSISSIPPI: Sheriff’s Department Sued By ACLU Over Officer Fired For Being Gay

The ACLU is suing Mississippi’s Forrest County Sheriff’s Department for firing a corrections officer after learning he is gay.

On June 14, while at home and off-duty, Cooley called 911 after his boyfriend became physically violent. Among the officers who responded to the call was Chief of Corrections Charles Bolton, one of Cooley’s supervisors. After Cooley’s boyfriend told Bolton that he and Cooley were in a relationship, Bolton told Cooley not to return to work before speaking with his immediate supervisor. The next day, Staff Sergeant of Jail Operations Donnell Brannon informed Cooley that he was being permanently terminated. Cooley asked Brannon if he was being fired because he was gay, and Brannon responded, “Yes.” Cooley has never received a written explanation for his firing. He has never been charged or disciplined in connection with the domestic violence precipitated by his former boyfriend the day before he was fired. The official police report of the incident identifies Cooley as the victim. After firing Cooley, the sheriff’s department attempted to deny him unemployment benefits by alleging that Cooley had engaged in unspecified “inappropriate conduct and behavior while off duty, unacceptable for an officer.” But after a hearing, an administrative law judge concluded that the sheriff’s department failed to show that Cooley committed misconduct of any kind.

Another prime example of why we need ENDA.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright