The Governor of Mississippi has signed a new law which protects Christians from being forced to participate in same-sex weddings.
Governor Phil Bryant says the legislation is a way of protecting people with sincerely-held religious beliefs from discrimination from the Government and its “political subdivisions”.
The move, which will come into force in July, was welcomed as common sense by religious liberty group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Bryant signed the ‘Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act’ on Monday.
Under the new law, he said, the Government will not be able to compel religious organisations or individuals to participate in a homosexual couple’s ‘wedding’.
A statement by the Governor reads: “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”.
The state of Mississippi will still issue same-sex marriage licences but state employees will now be able to request an opt-out – provided that another employee is able to issue the licence and the issuing of such a document is “not impeded or delayed”.
Kellie Fiedorek, spokesman for ADF, said: “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”.
Calls for a similar ‘conscience clause’ have also been made in the UK. At the end of 2014 Paul Givan MLA sought to table a Private Member’s Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend equality legislation in light of the Ashers Baking Company case.
He said his Bill would “contribute to creating a society that is tolerant and respectful by making reasonable accommodation for people to live their lives according to their conscience.
At the time, the Director of The Christian Institute Colin Hart said: “Whether it is a baker or a B&B owner, there ought to be a respect for their beliefs on those rare occasions where doing what the customer wants would force them into a moral compromise.
“In those circumstances, we think the law must respect their freedom of conscience.”