BY: B. Keith Plunkett  @Keithplunkett

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. . . . those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”~C.S. Lewis

The public debate over the passage and subsequent signing into law of House Bill 1523 in Mississippi reached ridiculous proportions rather quickly. Comments from celebrities and politicians from across the country took our state to task for being “bigots” and codifying “discrimination” into law. It hardly mattered that the bill does none of those things. It offered another chance for many to jump on the bandwagon to condemn our state for a so-called lack of tolerance. But exactly who is being intolerant here? 

As has been clearly stated many times the law positions the state as neutral in the case of conflicting rights. HB 1523 says that the State of Mississippi will not pick sides. It reaffirms the rights of religious objection as a counter balance. The state will take no action when it comes to individuals exercising their God-given, constitutionally-recognized right to the free practice of their religion by refusing to participate in the practice of same-sex marriage. Even the new laws allowance for clerks to practice their religious objection and to recuse themselves from issuing marriage license to same-sex couples requires that they “take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”

Yet in the name of tolerance we are subjected to the least tolerant position of all, namely that it is now not enough that there be a legal pathway to marriage for homosexuals. The goalposts have been moved again. Now the expectation is to forcibly require people to publicly uphold a stance against their conscience and beliefs. In other words, it’s not enough anymore for there to be a personal objection, nor even a position of neutrality. You are either for same-sex marriage and against HB 1523 or you are a bigot. There is no middle ground. 

Case in point, the position of Mayor Billy Hewes of Gulfport. Mayor Hewes when asked whether he was for or against the new law took no public position. His statement was that the City of Gulfport did not discriminate in any way in its hiring or services, as it should be. That should have been the end of the story. But, it’s high fashion these days to demand others take a position, so Sun Herald reporter Anita Lee just couldn’t accept that the City of Gulfport’s long standing policies were still the same long-standing policies.

So she harassed the mayor, and has written at least three articles calling into question his past support, when in the state senate in 2004, for a bill supporting marriage between one man and one woman. 

To his credit here is the mayors full response to Mrs. Lee’s attacks:

“Not sure what I did to get singled out on Anita Lee’s personal radar over an issue I had nothing to do with, but her targeted crusade in the Sun Herald and social media this past week has gone from inquiry, to harassment, to bullying.

“A lie unchallenged becomes the truth. Ms. Lee knows the reasons for my non-response to her story, and it had nothing to do with HB 1523. It was about biased reporting on other articles pertaining to Gulfport. That’s why I was “done.” I also told her I would not comment on the legislative act, because it is just that – a legislative matter, but that little fact wasn’t reported either. 

“What I did say is that I am more than happy to talk about municipal matters which we have control over – the City of Gulfport and our coastal community, where we do not engage in or condone discriminatory actions. Simply put, our City is about character and conduct. Folks are not asked for their pedigree, family history, or personal persuasion here. If they are good people who want to make a positive difference, then the Welcome Mat is always out.  

“Now she is asking about a piece of legislation from 2004, Senate Concurrent Resolution 519, which was passed when I WAS in the legislature and which I DID vote for. It was memorializing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. She wanted to know if my position has changed. It has not. I have always believed that, but I’m not hateful about it. I have every right to my own opinion and won’t be shamed for it. By the same token, I won’t persecute or condemn others for theirs. I may debate it with them, but I will not judge or be uncivil. Every difference of opinion is not a declaration of war.

“Having said that, I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers, that you get what you give, that every person has great worth, that we have so much more in common than we do differences, and that my Christ is a loving and compassionate God. His greatest Commandment is that we treat others as we would like to be treated. The door of tolerance should swing both ways.

“So, when it comes to the character of our community, the answer is clear. There is not one example that can be pointed to where Gulfport has adopted discriminatory policies or taken such action – and we’re not about to. Gulfport is truly “Open for Business and Geared for a Good Time.”

“We are many people and One Coast. I will not be a party to any action that discriminates against businesses or individuals, nor will I be used as a pawn to further one’s agenda of divisiveness.”

Mayor Hewes had nothing to do with the recent passage of HB 1523, and the City of Gulfport hasn’t changed any policy related to treatment of anyone based on their race, religion or sexual orientation, yet his personal past position that marriage is between one man and one woman means he is now a target.

Let me say, as many may already know, Mayor Billy Hewes and his entire family are very dear friends, the kind that if I needed them I know without a doubt that they would be there for me or mine. The Hewes family are very strong believers. I’ve seen the dedication to their faith first hand many times, and I and my family have been blessed to witness and participate alongside them in that faith in action many times. They are dedicated servants of the Gulf Coast community and this state.

I believe I can say clearly that while Mayor Hewes holds positions consistent with his faith that he reaches out in good will and kindness to everyone. For him to be on the receiving end of such an attack shows very clearly the steps the media and the agenda driven will go in denying anyone their own personal faith on the subject of homosexual marriage.

This is how far we have fallen, when calls for tolerance become themselves intolerant. Rather than rise to the challenge to defend a position, the homosexual “equality” argument is being thrust upon the reasoned and rational with the religious fervor of radical Islamic jihadists. In other words, it is beyond debate or tolerance to disagree and any disagreement, whether privately held or publicly stated, cannot be accepted. The appointed gods in the black robes have had their say, and now a newly recognized special class of citizens plan to beat people about the head with it. 

Justice Antonin Scalia revealed this all-or-nothing bias within the judiciary in his dissenting opinion regarding the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013:

To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans [the Supreme Court]. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”  

How is it that thousands of years of social and cultural progress, acceptance of the scientific reality of the biological family unit as key for healthy functioning individuals, and understanding of the very foundation of the survival of humanity itself can be so easily rendered obsolete within the space of 40 years? Why is it that what began as a movement to gain freedom of a sexual lifestyle to come “out of the closet” has now devolved into demands that any speech that shows a belief to the contrary, or any practice that doesn’t accept and condone such behavior, be outlawed?

And why the demands that even those who take a public position of neutrality must go further and publicly state their undying allegiance to the new normal?

There are more than a few folks who think HB 1523 was a law passed without cause and that maybe the state should have left well-enough alone. The Neshoba County Democrat argued that the passage of the law was unprovoked by the circumstances. Although there are numerous examples of government sanctioned punishment of private individuals across the country for practicing their faith, there have not yet been any major examples in Mississippi. So states the Democrats nameless, faceless “editorial”. The editorial concludes “Stand on principle, that’s fine, but keep the government out of it.” 

Perhaps the writer(s) of the editorial should have read the actual bill, because that is exactly what HB 1523 reaffirms.  

Wyatt Emmerich, owner and editor of many community newspapers across the state has touted Christian faith itself as reason to be against HB 1523. According to Emmerich, there is “room for reasonable Christian discussion on this issue” and “the Bible has no record” of “Jesus expounding on the issue of homosexuality.” 

When people say, “Jesus said nothing about homosexuality,” they reveal that they really haven’t understood Scripture, or Who Christ was and is. He clearly gave warnings about sexual immorality in discussing Sodom and Gomorrah, which anyone who knows their Good Book knows was a hotbed of homosexual perversion (Matthew 10:15, Mark 6:11, Luke 10:12, and Luke 17:29). He spoke out against sex outside of marriage, which he clearly recognized as a union between a man and woman (Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9). Jesus also didn’t speak of incest, rape or of domestic abuse. Are we to assume that those are okay with Mr. Emmerich’s faith, too?

Claiming a position against HB 1523 based on theology simply doesn’t fly. 

Emmerich also concludes that “the government needs to stay out of it.”

Again, a quick read of the bill shows that is exactly what HB 1523 reaffirms, a secular state government position of neutrality. There will be no action by the state to pick sides when it comes to these conflicting rights. The state will “stay out of it”. 

Bigotry requires action in order for it to be “bigoted”. Belief in the biblical definition of marriage, whether privately or publicly held, as Scalia noted in 2013, does not demean those who believe otherwise. The action for those who want to make issue of it is the state recognition of religious conscience in these matters. If that is bigotry then millions of Christians across Mississippi fit the description, which is exactly what progressives want you to believe. 

Like in the case of Mayor Hewes, it is not good enough to refuse to take a public position. Reaffirming a position of neutrality, whether by government or the individual, is the same to progressives and much of the media as bigotry, which is interestingly the exact same position taken by the progressives and Leftists who have been heaping their demands upon society to begin with.

Only one side of this crazy debate is demanding you support them or they will declare you an enemy of all that is right. Only one side is demanding absolute allegiance. It’s not those who believe in balanced Liberty; religious, individual or otherwise.

And while we’re recognizing the irony of intolerance in the name of tolerance, we should also note that taking the Liberty one has to boycott, or to refuse to do business within Mississippi based on ones beliefs, because the state passed a law that reaffirms the right of Mississippians to do that very same thing–this is the height of hypocrisy.

Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund. He has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by email at or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett

2 thoughts on “PLUNKETT: Virulent opponents of HB 1523 are only ones demanding that individuals pick sides in same-sex marriage debate.

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