Southern Miss cancelled three February home games versus Stony Brook University after becoming aware of New York’s Mississippi travel ban. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned all nonessential travel to Mississippi due to the signing of HB1523 in April 2016.
Commonly known as the “religious freedom law” or the “gay marriage law,” HB1523 allows business owners to refuse service to those not aligned with their personal religious beliefs that target the LGBTQ community without repercussions from the government.
The bill states, “Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage; and male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
Cuomo, citing New York as a “national leader in protecting the civil rights and liberties of all of its citizens,” made the executive order banning state-funded travel to Mississippi the same day Governor Phil Bryant signed it into law.
The law went into effect in October 2017 despite First Amendment challenges by Campaign for Southern Equality.
Stony Brook University and Southern Miss were not knowledgeable of the executive order when initially creating the 2018 baseball schedule. Stony Brook University officials appeared to discover the mistake during the fall semester, according to The Sun Herald.
“Southern Miss obviously wasn’t pleased that we were trying to get out of it,” Stony Brook’s Associate Director of Communications Brian Miller said.
USM’s Assistant Athletic Director Jack Duggan said the head coaches of both teams, Southern Miss’ Scott Berry and Stony Brook’s Matt Senk, tried to find another way to play against the team, having failed in doing so twice now.
“We had Stony Brook scheduled here for a three-game series in 2014, but they were unable to travel [due] to winter weather in the northeast,” Duggan said. “Instead, we were able to find a tournament o travel to that weekend at the last minute. At the start of this, I know that our athletic administration was in contact with their athletic administration and at the end of the day, we were unable to secure the series.”
Instead, Southern Miss will be playing in the Stephen F. Austin tournament in Nacogdoches, Texas on February 25.
The odds that Stony Brook will play against Southern Miss in the future are slim – at least until Cuomo lifts the travel ban.
Cuomo banned travel to Indiana in 2015 after the state enacted the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law similar to HB1523. At that time, NCAA President Mark Emmert worried that the law could affect NCAA’s reputation for providing inclusive environments. However, governor at the time (now vice president) Mike Pence signed amendments into law one month after the initial signing guaranteeing that businesses could not discriminate against those who identify as LGBTQ. Cuomo lifted the travel ban soon after.
Unlike Pence, Governor Phil Bryant has no plans to amend or remove HB1523.
The United States Supreme Court denied an appeal on January 8 after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declared that HB1523 is constitutional.
After the news broke, Bryant issued a statement, “As I have said from the beginning, this law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional. The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”