Was Mississippi ‘Duped’ Into Supporting Anti-LGBT Law?

In the wake of a stinging federal ruling against Mississippi’s license to discriminate law, the state’s Attorney General Jim Hood has said he may not defend the law in the appeals courts. 

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves handed down a ruling that blocked HB 1523′s license to discriminate — specifically, the section that allowed county clerks to cite their religious beliefs as a means to deny same-gender couples a marriage license.

With the law set to go into effect on Friday, July 1, Judge Reeves issued an additional ruling on the remaining sections of the law — including the ban on trans people using bathrooms that accord with their gender.

Reeves ruled that all aspects of HB 1523 are unconstitutional and argued that the law clearly violates both the Equal Protection Clause and the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps most interestingly, Reeves emphasized that the law actually harms religious protections by clearly favoring anti-LGBT religious beliefs: “Persons who hold contrary religious beliefs are unprotected – the State has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others.”

Reeves also notes that the law specifically targets the LGBT community and, as a result, fails to pass even the lowest level of judicial scrutiny as applied in cases like Romer v. Evans.

Furthermore, the legislative history of HB 1523 betrays that it was clearly designed to discriminate against LGBT people and was “the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place” following the United States Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality ruling in 2015. 

In light of this ruling, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has issued a statement saying he may not defend the law.

Hood cites that in 2014 the state adopted the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a law that specifically highlighted the constitutional right for citizens to petition the courts if they feel their religious rights have been unfairly burdened.

Noting that this law was in force when Mississippi lawmakers chose to take up HB 1523 over supposed religious rights and privacy concerns, Hood argues that people were duped into believing that the new law offered those same protections.

In  a statement, Hood explained:

The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB 1523 protected religious freedoms. Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason.  I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man.

The attorney general’s office will carefully evaluate Judge Reeves’ decision to determine whether to appeal or not. But Hood notes the high cost of defending a law that offers no new protections to citizens but disadvantages many:

In consideration of the individual rights of all our citizens, the state’s current budget crisis and the cost of appeal, I will have to think long and hard about spending taxpayer money to appeal the case against me.  An appeal could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, North Carolina has set aside $500,000 for defense of its bathroom law. Even if we won and the injunction were set aside on appeal, the case would be remanded and proceed to trial over about two years.  Because of the huge tax breaks handed out to big corporations by these same leaders, the state is throwing mentally ill patients out on the street.  This is hardly protecting the least among us as Jesus directed.

As a rule of thumb, state attorney generals will defend laws, even if they personally do not agree with them. This is considered good practice simply to ensure that state governments, which are elected by the general public as an extension of their political powers, are given fair representation against lawsuits from private interest groups or individuals.

However, attorney generals do have the jurisdiction to refuse to defend a law if they believe it is blatantly unconstitutional. A relevant example, though not exactly the same legal situation, would be when California’s then Attorney General Jerry Brown chose not to defend Proposition 8, the constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.

In a similar vein, a number of other AGs chose not to defend state bans on marriage equality in the build-up to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality nationwide. By that time, they believed that the courts had already rendered the bans unconstitutional.

No attorney general would take this decision lightly, but Hood’s reasoning is sound. The state government should — at last — do the right thing and abandon what has been deemed an unconstitutional and discriminatory law.

This shameful last-ditch effort to undermine the rights of LGBT citizens must end.

Photo Credit: NatalieMaynor/Flickr

77 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

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Sue H.
Sue Habout a year ago

Thank you Judge Reeves. Hopefully AG Hood will do the right thing.

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pam w.
pam wabout a year ago

If anyone is a ''dupe''.....it's the voters of Mississippi and those who ''educate'' them.

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Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodmanabout a year ago

Mina X. wrote, " ... don't think being a bully is going to change people's minds ... " I agree! The question is, who is the bully?

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Carole R.
Carole Rabout a year ago

Thanks for posting.

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Marianne C.
Marianne Cabout a year ago

What I like best is that Hood told them they're not doing as Jesus directed.

These erstwhile "Christians" need to be reminded every once in a while that even though THEY don't seem to grasp what Jesus was saying, there are still those who do.

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Kay M.
Kay Mabout a year ago

Good evening and thank you for this article - good information- we need more people to realize that they are being lied to for no reason at all- the lies are spread just to hurt the poor and disadvantaged in our society- sincerely KAY M.

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william Miller
william Millerabout a year ago

thanks

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