Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law Tuesday, April 5, 2016. This bill, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” seeks to protect “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Specifically it protects persons who believe the following:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage;
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
It also prohibits the state government from taking any discriminatory action against persons, including clergy and religious organizations, which, based upon the above beliefs, have “provided or declined to provide” a variety of “services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage.” The bill further prohibits government discrimination against various specifically named persons who express or hold these beliefs, including foster parents, medical personnel, and government employees.
The UPCI applauds the protection of religious freedom under the US Constitution and acknowledges the value of legislation that protects that freedom. We believe that God’s plan is for human sexuality to be expressed in a marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:3–6). Accordingly, we do not condone any sexual acts between persons outside such marriages, but consider them to be contrary to God’s will and the teaching of Scripture (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26–27; I Corinthians 6:9–10). We are thankful for governmental protection of our right to hold these beliefs in the US.
At the same time, we also want to express that we unconditionally love all people, recognize universal equality under the law, and support civil rights for all, including individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Jesus taught his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31 NKJV). He also challenged them, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:31 NIV). The “neighbor” and the “others” are not qualified as being only those who share Christians’ commitment to Christian beliefs and practices. Indeed, Jesus even challenged his hearers to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44 NKJV). After all this is what Jesus has done for the whole world. Paul reminds us that “when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10 NKJV). We oppose discrimination based on a person’s identity while affirming everyone’s religious freedom to endorse or not to endorse specific choices and lifestyles.
Some of our members may exercise the freedom guaranteed by HB 1523 and similar legislation not to support certain marriages based on their religious convictions and the teaching of Scripture. However, we encourage all our members to treat everyone with the utmost respect and courtesy, recognizing that every human is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).