• US protests against segregation in 1964. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A new law will allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples in Mississippi, drawing parallels to racial segregation in America's south.
Drew Sheldrick

6 Apr 2016 - 11:37 AM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2016 - 11:38 AM

An anti-LGBT rights bill signed into law by the governor of US state of Mississippi is being compared to racial segregation as businesses and rights advocates rush to condemn its passage.

Governor Phil Bryant announced Tuesday that he had approved House Bill 1523 which makes it legal for both private business owners and government workers to refuse services to same-sex couples if it is in keeping with their “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”.

The religious beliefs or "moral convictions" defined in the bill include that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that sexual relations should only occur in such a marriage. The law will also affect transgender people by stating that gender is “determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth”. It allows businesses can determine who is allowed to access bathrooms and locker rooms.

It's the latest in a series of state bills claiming to defend religious freedom by targeting existing LGBT rights and anti-discrimination ordinances. In March, North Carolina's governor signed into a law a bill that overrides all local ordinances that ban discrimination against LGBT people in regards to wages, employment and public accommodation. The bill will also force trans people to use bathrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates. In Georgia last month, politicians passed a bill allowing business owners to discriminate against LGBT people if it was in keeping with their faith. The legislation was later vetoed by Georgia's governor only after large corporations threatened to boycott the state.

"Governor Phil Bryant adds his name to a list of disgraced Southern governors by signing this hateful and discriminatory bill into law,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said.

“Now his state will suffer because of his ignorance and failure of leadership. Just as we're doing elsewhere, we will continue to rally fair-minded voters, businesses, and civil rights advocates to repeal.”

A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi said that far from protecting anyone from government discrimination, as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and will "serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame”.

"The law, which is set to go into effect in July, sanctions discrimination by individuals, businesses, religiously-affiliated organisations - including hospitals, schools, shelters and others – against LGBT people, single mothers, and vulnerable young people in Mississippi," ACLU Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley-Collins said.

"While no other state has passed a law like this, Mississippi also has the dubious distinction of being the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBT community do not matter."

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US Evangelicals have pushed hard for so-called religious freedom protections since the country's Supreme Court ruled in favour of nationwide marriage equality in 2015. In Australia, conservative religious groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) continue to push for business owners to be protected from anti-discrimination law should same-sex marriage become legal.

“People operating wedding businesses whose consciences cause them to hold the view that marriage is between a man and a woman could face considerable fines under anti-discrimination laws should the definition of marriage be changed,” ACL managing director Lyle Shelton said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is not about refusing to serve people because they are same-sex attracted, it is about the freedom to decline to participate in something which violates a conscientiously held belief.”