- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 12, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An annual New York City picnic celebrating Mississippi food and culture is canceled because of Mississippi’s adoption of a contested religious-objections bill.

This would have been the 37th Mississippi Picnic in Central Park. The event, which would have honored the late blues musician B.B. King., was set for June 11.

The New York Mississippi Society, a group of native Mississippians living in New York City, founded the annual event in 1980. The group released a statement Tuesday canceling the event because of the controversy surrounding the bill, which civil rights groups say allows for discrimination against LGBT people. The group also said local groups were planning to demonstrate against the bill at the picnic.

“For almost four decades, the Mississippi Picnic in Central Park has consistently celebrated the best of Mississippi, without regard to race, religion, or gender orientation. We took pride in sharing our rich heritage and diversity with the rest of the world through these annual gatherings. Any law such as HB 1523 that discriminates against even a single member of our community cannot be tolerated, and therefore we have decided to stand up for all Mississippians by canceling the 2016 picnic in the park,” the New York Mississippi Society said in a statement.

Mississippi Development Authority spokesman Jeff Rent said in a statement that the New York Mississippi Society did not speak with local officials before canceling the event. He said the state agency was disappointed with the event’s cancellation.



“We are disappointed in not only their decision, but also their lack of discussion with Mississippi partners before cancelling the event,” Rent said.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, in a statement, echoed the sentiment of the Mississippi Development Authority.

“I am disappointed we won’t be celebrating Mississippi’s rich and diverse culture in Central Park this year. I am confident many New Yorkers feel the same way. I will be happy to participate in the event should organizers revive it in the future,” Bryant said.

Bryant signed the bill April 5 amid opposition from big businesses. In an interview with WAPT-TV on Monday, he defended the measure that is set to become law July 1.

“It’s not discriminating against anyone,” Bryant said. “People around the country may be overreacting to it. That’s my summation of it. They need to read the bill and understand that people of faith have some rights as well in this country.”

Supporters of the bill, including the American Family Association, say it is designed to protect people from violating their own deeply held religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman; that sexual relations should only occur in such a marriage; and that a person’s sex is determined at birth and is unchangeable.

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

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This story has been corrected to fix spelling of ‘canceled’ throughout to conform to AP Style.

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