Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on Wednesday defended a controversial anti-gay bill he signed into law, saying that it was needed to protect “the churches.”

Passage of House Bill 1523 has spurred the business community, politicians and celebrities to call for its repeal. Ten mayors and several states have banned non-essential travel to the state. Singer Bryan Adams canceled a show in Biloxi in protest.

The law protects opponents of the Supreme Court's June, 2015 finding that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry. The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act also protects the “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” of individuals and “private associations” opposed to transgender people and sexual relations outside of marriage.

In an interview with Tm Wildmon, head of the Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA), Bryant, a Republican, said that without such laws “church after church across this country will close.”

“This is about the churches,” Bryant said. “The next stop will be American Family Radio and it will be Mississippi College, it will be St. Dominic's Hospital as lawsuits will be filed. It will be churches where pastors can say, 'I can't perform that ceremony,' a lawsuit will be filed. It will go to a federal court and the federal court will say, 'Yes, they should be a protected class,' those who choose to marry and want to be married in the church. And that church might lose its tax-exempt status and they'll have to close. And church after church across this country will close.”

“We think people of faith have rights,” he continued. “I know that's a strange notion, but we believe the scales of justice must be balanced for those people of faith and those that have other ideas about their desires in life. And that's what the scales of justice must do, is be balanced. And we believe that this is a step in protecting the civil liberties of people of faith just as the First Amendment of the Constitution does.”

As critics of the law have noted, clergy cannot be forced to marry gay couples.