Last updated: 05:06 PM ET, Wed April 06 2016

Mississippi Faces Tourism Backlash for Anti-LGBT ‘Religious Freedom’ Law

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | April 06, 2016

Mississippi Faces Tourism Backlash for Anti-LGBT ‘Religious Freedom’ Law

PHOTO: Will tourism hubs such as Biloxi take a hit as new anti-LGBT law goes into affect? (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

Mississippi, known as the “hospitality state” isn’t seeming very hospitable right about now. After signing into law a sweeping pro-discrimination bill yesterday, the state is experiencing a similar backlash to North Carolina.

Several states have banned travel to Mississippi for employees, major employers in the state have decried the law and Funny or Die has, once again, assisted in rewriting the state’s tourism message, similar to its spoof tourism campaign for North Carolina.

The comparison of the two bills, while both anti-LGBT, aren’t necessarily direct but they both do one thing the same: discriminate. North Carolina’s law bars cities from giving LGBT people civil rights protections and Mississippi's law seems much more far reaching. Essentially, the law allows people to deny goods and services to LGBT people if they have a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

READ MORE: Survey: Most LGBT Travelers Won’t Visit Places Where Homosexuality is Illegal

Specifically, the Mississippi law means that people with religious objections can deny wedding services to same-sex couples and permits employers to use religious beliefs as justification to discriminate against LGBT people when determining workplace policies such as who can access what bathroom.

In a statement, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant said that the new legislation is meant to allow people to exercise religious freedom and does not limit any constitutionally protected rights, although, it’s unclear as to which “religious freedoms” were being prevented in the first place, according to the first amendment.

“This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, in a statement. “This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty.”

Mississippi isn't receiving the onslaught of backlash that North Carolina is, but without as many major companies headquartered in the state, the corporate outcry might not seem as intense. However, tourism is one area where the state might feel swift retribution. One of Mississippi’s largest employers is MGM Resorts International — a company that prides itself on its reputation in the LGBT community.

MGM Resorts, which employs 4,400 people in the state at its two resorts, has, so far, released a statement expressing disappointment and warned that tourism to the state would take a hit.

"We respect the diversity of our employees, our guests and the people in our communities," an MGM Resorts spokesperson said in an email to CBS News. "Laws that permit businesses to decline to provide services to individuals because of this diversity will result in discrimination, decreased tourism and harm to the state's economy."

Already travel to Mississippi is taking a hit. So far, Vermont, Washington and New York governors all banned official state-funded or sponsored travel to Mississippi.

And, just like they did for North Carolina, Funny or Die is redefining Mississippi’s new tourism campaign in the wake of the new law.

Obviously not everyone agrees with the new law. Casey Anne Hughes of Natchez, Miss., was so upset by the action that she started a petition on to have the city secede from Mississippi and become a part of Louisiana. The petition has garnered surprising support but is just a form of protest.

READ MORE: Will North Carolina’s Tourism Take a Hit With New Anti-LGBT Law?

Hughes said to WAPT, “The second goal is to let tourists know they can still come to Natchez and not be discriminated against,” Hughes said. “This is a way we can make our point and have a good time doing it.” 

So, for LGBT people who are headed to Mississippi, the "hospitality state" is still alive and well in Natchez.

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