Mayor, I was disappointed to see you oppose the new Religious Accommodations Act (HB 1523) and pass a resolution for its repeal.
As you know, the bill is specifically premised on the 2000-year-old religious belief, and teaching of Christ, that marriage is between one man and one woman. It prohibits discriminatory action against faith-based agencies that place children with mothers and fathers, Moms and Dads. It protects faith-based schools from being compelled to hire persons whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with the religious organization. It attempts to protect medical professionals who because of their religious beliefs do not want to be compelled in providing services related to sex reassignment procedures. It prohibits state government from taking action against employers or school officials who establish, in the interest of safety, sex-specific restrooms, lockers, or dressing rooms, based on one’s biological sex. And it recuses those who provide certain services from being compelled to PARTICIPATE in or affirm a celebration of homosexual “marriage” or behavior.
Everyone understands the concerns of any mayor of a city that is enriched by, but not necessarily dependent upon, tourism. We all wish to avoid any misperception that we do not welcome any visitors or group regardless of what they’re orienting towards or identifying with. Compared to other areas of our state we can justifiably boast that we have always been characterized as a robust cosmopolitan community and at the vanguard of social change.
But while vibrant tourism is important, there are many businesses and people in our community whose lives do not necessarily revolve around tourism. Like many cities that are not dependent on tourism for a viable city life, many of these businesses and people live lives that are enveloped by and oriented toward things other than, or in addition to, commercial interests – many, towards the spiritual, though we all be sinners.
But I think your position, and that of the city council, may inadvertently represent one part of our community at the expense of others. Many factors determine why a business is attracted to or away from any state – for example, tax breaks, interest rates, population growth, national trade agreements, and the like. To react as if tourists and businesses determine their pleasure or profitability on a bill as specific (marriage) as this one may be nearsighted. Experience has taught that celebrity and CEO threats of boycotts do not appreciably change the economics of a state but instead frame a state’s reputation, at least by perception. Notwithstanding the fact that Mississippi has the greatest number of black elected officials of any state in the country, a significant sign of our diversity, we know there are those around the country who continue to think ill of our state regardless of what legislation might be passed. Many of those are political, academic, and media elites. Some are even out-of-town CEOs.
Those who promote business interests at the expense of all others is the mark, these days, of an “Establishment” politician. Some might say that’s a good thing. Some though, even many, consider it to be unbalanced, short-sighted, and perhaps unfair.
But if misperception is the issue then let’s treat the misperception, all the while facing the reality, and at least not stand in the way of those who do not wish to be compelled into participating, or affirming, a LGBTQSM celebration that a man can “marry” another man. At least permit them to try to legislatively preempt the soon to come legal challenges to this particular religious conviction.
However, many in town might rightfully ask -- if you choose to advance your position, to what extent are you and the city council invested in this issue. Will you be directing resources, personnel and taxpayer funds towards advertisements directed towards repealing this law? If so, how much? Is this issue now a priority that you will be traveling out of town to meet with those in state power to directly plead your case with them? Will you be proactively recommending the altering of business and public restrooms across the city to ensure the city’s commitment to “diversity” and a nondiscriminatory posture? Will you deny the LGBTQSM community this request when they approach you and the council to do so?
Mr. Mayor, we are both Catholic Christians, attend Mass at the same church, and as children played ball together in the school yard of Nativity B.V.M. Elementary School. We know that politicians divorce their personal views from their public views. But since you’ve taken a leadership role on this issue, does it matter to you as mayor that Catholic and Evangelical leaders might be concerned about continuing to be able to place adoptive, and foster, children with married parents; that their potential closing is real subject to a legal challenge in placing a small boy with two men purported to be “married” – this against the agencies’ religious conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman? Pray, God forbid if circumstances permitted, that it not be your grandchild or mine.
In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston, one of the oldest adoption agencies in the country, was forced to close its doors because Massachusetts had redefined marriage, and refused to license the agency because they practiced their long held faith and religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman and that each child deserves to be with a mother and father. They had asked for an exemption but were denied. Later that year, Catholic Charities in San Francisco faced a similar choice and was forced to close. The First Amendment failed these charities and others as it did in several other states in the ensuing years.
Like the WLOX-TV Editorial board, your resolution to repeal HB 1523 claims our citizens’ “freedom of religion” is protected by the First Amendment. What do you believe it is about the city of Biloxi, or Mississippi, that the First Amendment will be protective when it failed these charities and others in many other states? Thus, the need for a remedy as states, like ours, struggle to define the freedom of religion. And so does it not seem reasonable for many men and women whose lives are oriented towards matters other than sex and business, to ask their elected representatives to attempt to preserve a basic human right by legislation designed to preserve the free exercise of a faith-informed conscience in the practicing of their faith? If it does, permit them to move forward.
Perhaps in the end this new law may prove to be unconstitutional; many think otherwise. But I respectfully request you and the city council allow this law to be vetted by the legal challenges that are sure to come. Let the litigation against it proceed to this law’s own fate whatever it be. Meantime, treat the misperception, as you’ve initially done, and promote our pluralism and cosmopolitan ways, as well as the good character that has been the trait of our municipal personality for decades if not centuries.
Mayor, you’ve been a good executive and I support everything you’ve done to date as mayor. But with all due respect, I think you’ve erred on this issue.