By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Clerks who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies would be protected from legal actions under legislation passed Friday by the Mississippi House.
“The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” passed 80-39 with all but one Republican voting for it and most Democrats voting against it.
The bill resulted in about 90 minutes of debate on Friday, which is normally a get-away day for lawmakers when controversial legislation is not considered.
House Judiciary B Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said the legislation, authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, was “narrowly tailored” and was not intended to say that Mississippi did not have to adhere to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage.
But he said if, for instance, a circuit clerk’s office did not want to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, then the Bureau of Vital Statistics could be contacted to find someone who would. Or, if a justice court judge did not want to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, then the state office of the courts could find a judge to perform the ceremony.
“This bill protects against government action against any individual who holds these beliefs,” against same sex marriage or against providing government services to gay people said Gipson.
People who oppose the bill said it would take rights away from gay people by not allowing them to go into a circuit clerk’s office to get a marriage license like any other individual.
Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said the bill harks back to a day when the Mississippi Legislature was trying to ensure African Americans like himself did not have the same rights as white Mississippians.
“Here we are again going to put the face of Mississippi on this kind of legislation,” he said.
Both sides referenced the Bible in trying to make their points. Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, offered an amendment to provide the same protection for an official who believed a divorced couple should not remarry. She quoted numerous Bible passages to make her point, but Gipson, a minister, opposed the amendment, which was defeated 77-40.
Gipson said the legislation would protect a restaurant owner, for instance, who did not want to host a reception for a gay marriage.
But, he said, it would not protect a restaurant owner who did not want to provide a regular meal to a gay couple.
Many said the legislation, if it becomes law, would result in costly litigation for the state.
The legislation will be considered by the Senate in the coming weeks.