Judge Rejects Part of Mississippi’s License to Discriminate Law

A federal judge has ruled that county clerks cannot deny marriage licenses to same-gender couples by citing their religious beliefs under Mississippi’s new license to discriminate law.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves has struck down a major component of Mississippi’s HB 1523, the so-called “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” He determined that the bill violates the marriage equality ruling made by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015.

Citing Obergefell v. Hodges, Reeves said in a 16-page decision handed down on Monday, June 27, that county clerks could not use HB 1523 as justification for denying same-gender couples a marriage license:

Mississippi’s elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit – by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example.  But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after each legislative session.

With this opinion, Reeves extends a previous ruling against Mississippi’s ban on same-gender marriage. He contends that circuit clerks must provide equal treatment to people regardless of sexuality. Reeves also notes that the state’s clerks must be given formal notice of this legal requirement.

The decision is a significant blow to opponents of marriage equality who have sought to use religious freedom as a reason for not performing their duties when same-gender couples are involved.

HB 1523, which is set to go into effect on July 1, doesn’t just confine itself to attacking same-gender marriage. The law technically targets cohabiting couples, allows businesses the right to discriminate against patrons based on the owner’s religious beliefs and defines away the very existence of trans people. It even contains language stating that gender is ”an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

Reeves’ opinion leaves the rest of the law in tact, and, at the time of writing, equality advocates await two separate opinions that will tackle those aspects of Mississippi’s license to discriminate. However, campaigners are still celebrating the firm language in this ruling. It delivers a definitive slap to the state for trying to usurp not just the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell but also the Constitutional rights of same-gender couples.

Roberta Kaplan, counsel in the case, explained:

Exactly one year and one day after the Supreme Court guaranteed marriage equality in Obergefell, we are delighted that Judge Reeves reaffirmed the power of federal courts to definitively say what the United States Constitution means, recognizing that the issue of gay and lesbian Mississippians’ right to marry on equal terms as other couples “will not be adjudicated anew after every . . . session” of the Mississippi Legislature.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this will be the last word on this portion of the law.

Republican Mississippi Lt. Governor Tate Reeves has issued a statement calling for an appeal, stating:

If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice their religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights.  I hope the state’s attorneys will quickly appeal this decision to the 5th Circuit to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of all Mississippians.

HB 1523 supporters have so far failed to prove how serving same-gender couples manifestly harms them.

Mississippi’s HB 1523 narrowly targets the LGBT community, while broadly allowing discrimination by privileging religious beliefs. Unfortunately, it is not alone, as states like North Carolina now have similar laws on the books.

Reeves’ ruling — and subsequent rulings — on HB 1523 carries immense weight as advocates attempt to establish the full meaning of the protections granted a year ago when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-gender marriage.

This certainly won’t be the end of the fight, but it is an important step in ensuring LGBT rights are protected.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

56 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Ingo Schreiner
Ingo Schreinerabout a year ago

noted

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Lubos Z.
Lubos Zabout a year ago

Na malých vesnicích a městech jsou opravdu malé možnosti, i když si někdo říká, že se stále zlepšujeme, ale není to zase až tak pravda! Důležité ale je, že každý má právo na svůj názor a také právo na to, aby se nemusel stydět za to, jaký je! http://fenixradio.net/

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ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA Sabout a year ago

noted

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer Habout a year ago

So right, Timothy W. In small towns, you may not have too many options.

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Timothy W.
Timothy Wabout a year ago

Chavonne N.
You do realize don't you that in some areas there are not many clerks. What if all the clerks feel the same. Do you know what it feels like to have someone reject your desire to get married or do anything else that anyone else would be allowed. If someones religious beliefs don't allow them to do their job, they should get another job. Some would say it is the clerks making the big deal out of it. They aren't being asked to get married to their same gender. All they are being asked to do is issue a piece of paper that says the persons requesting it are legally entitled to it. The piece of paper does not say the clerk is in favor of the marriage, just that they know the couple to meet the legal guidelines not the clerks personal moral or religious beliefs.

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Chavonne N.
Chavonne Nabout a year ago

If the clerk doesn't want to be involved then why not just get another clerk to do it? instead of making a huge deal out of it all.

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Chavonne N.
Chavonne Nabout a year ago

Live and let live

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Tim Rose
Tim Roseabout a year ago

If your job goes against your religious beliefs then it is time for you to get another job! Your religion does not guarantee the right to any job.

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