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Miss. governor weighs bill allowing denial of services to same-sex couples

JACKSON, Miss. -- The Mississippi House is sending Republican Gov. Phil Bryant a bill that would let government employees and private businesses cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples who want to marry.

Bryant would not say Friday whether he will sign House Bill 1523.

"I haven't gotten to it yet. As soon as it gets to us we'll look at it and decide," Bryant said as he walked away from reporters after a Capitol news conference about a youth jobs program.

The governor's spokesman, Clay Chandler tried to block reporters from asking questions by saying repeatedly: "Not today. Not today."

Bryant said of the bill: "I'm going to look at it like I do every piece of legislation and as soon as I make that decision, I'll let you know."

He signed a 2014 bill promoted by gay marriage opponents, saying government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices. This year's bill is similar to the one Georgia's Republican governor vetoed Monday amid objections from businesses that said it would permit discrimination.

The Mississippi bill is also similar to North Carolina's first-in-the-nation law that limits bathroom options for transgender people. Business executives are urging North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to repeal the bill he signed March 23. The Mississippi bill says people would have to use public restrooms that correspond to their birth gender.

Mississippi is one of 10 states considering bills in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The Mississippi House passed the final version of the bill 69-45 Friday, two days after the Senate passed it 32-17. Republicans hold a majority in both chambers. Bryant has often said he believes marriage should be only between a man and a woman. Under the margins for final passage, there would not be enough votes to override if he vetoes the bill.

Some corporations in Mississippi oppose the bill, including Nissan North America, which has a plant near Jackson; MGM Resorts International, which has casinos in Biloxi and Tunica; and Huntington Ingalls Industries, which has a shipyard in Pascagoula. All three are among the state's largest private employers.

Republican Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, an attorney and pastor of a small Baptist church, told the House Friday that reporting about the bill has been biased against it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, don't buy the deceptions, the untruths of these articles that you've seen. The talking heads - they're wrong. This is an anti-discrimination bill," said Gipson, chairman of the House Judiciary A Committee and one of the bill's sponsors.

Democratic Rep. Christopher Bell of Jackson called the bill "an open container for discrimination across the board."

"We're asking to legalize discrimination," Bell said. "What comes next? Are we going to start discriminating against interracial marriages? Are we going to start discriminating ... against African-Americans? Asians? Jews? When does it stop?"

The House passed the bill a day after a federal judge blocked Mississippi from enforcing the nation's last ban on adoptions by same-sex couples. The bill says the state could not punish people involved with foster care or adoption who teach children that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, that sex should only take place inside such a marriage and that gender is set at birth.

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