The religious objection law Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed Tuesday is much more sweeping than any other religious protection law we've seen before.
It is the first law to prohibit state government from taking any discriminatory action against a person, religious organization, business or government employee for refusing services to LGBT people because of "sincerely held religious beliefs" or "moral conviction" against same-sex marriage, extra-marital sex and/or transgender people.
Bryant and the law's supporters say the broad measure is necessary to protect people's freedom of religion in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Democrats and LGBT rights organizations retort that this law codifies discrimination on nearly every level of an LGBT person's daily life.
Like every debate over religious protections vs. LGBT rights, there's a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides about what the law does and doesn't do. So with the caveat that groups on both sides are still trying to interpret its final language, here's what we know about how Mississippi's law will affect LGBT people. (As an aside, nine other states -- Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming -- have introduced or are considering similar bills this legislative session.)
Mississippi's law can be broken down into four broad categories. It basically allows 1) religious organizations, 2) for-profit businesses and 3) state officials from being punished for denying a range of services to LGBT people. It also has language related to 4) schools and foster parents. Let's go through a real-world example of how the law might play out in each scenario to better understand its implications.
1) Religious organizations: This law says religious organizations -- say a Catholic nonprofit or a religious hospital -- can legally refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage or a person's gender identity for any purpose. So say a gay man is receiving a cancer treatment at a religious hospital. The hospital can refuse to provide counseling services for that man's spouse. A religious hospital or clinic can also refuse to provide hormone therapy or surgery for people who wish to reassign their gender. Under this law, these organizations can still receive government funding.
2) For-profit businesses: Before this law, it was already legal in Mississippi -- and 27 other states -- for a business to refuse LGBT people services. That means gay men, lesbians and transgender people could be asked to leave a shopping mall or be refused services by a hairdresser. (That number is even higher for transgender people in 32 states).
Mississippi's law reinforces that a cake baker or a photographer can refuse to serve a same-sex wedding, for example. LGBT rights advocates say the law's language protecting people who oppose extramarital sex could discriminate against more than LGBT people -- for example, a cake baker could refuse to make a baby shower cake for a woman who isn't married.
Mississippi's new law essentially ensures cities and towns in the state can't set up their own non-discrimination protections.
3) Government officials: The law extends the same protections above to state and local government officials. Call it the Kim Davis effect: A county clerk can recuse himself or herself from signing a marriage license for a same-sex couple and not risk going to jail, as happened to Davis in Kentucky.
4) Schools and adoptive services: This law says public schools can prohibit students from wearing clothes and using the bathroom of the gender they identify with if it doesn't match the gender on their birth certificate.
This law says the state can't take any action against an adoptive or foster parent for exercising their beliefs when it comes to LGBT people. That means the state can't intervene if a foster parent puts a child into conversion therapy (which is legal in Mississippi), for example.