Wednesday, June 22, 2016
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge has declined to block a Mississippi gay marriage law in one challenge filed against it. But it's still possible he will block the law after considering three other lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said two gay men who plan to marry each other within the next three years can't prove they would face immediate harm if House Bill 1523 becomes law July 1. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, both of Meridian, filed papers Tuesday asking Reeves to reconsider his Monday decision.
The law will allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It says those who recuse themselves must find another employee to issue the license, but legislators did not say what would happen if all employees in a particular clerk's office decline to help same-sex couples.
State attorneys say the law is a reasonable accommodation to protect religious beliefs, but opponents say it sanctions discrimination.
Mississippi was one of several states that considered laws after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide nearly a year ago.
The Mississippi law will provide protection for people with three religious beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sexual relations should only take place inside such a marriage and that a person's "immutable biological sex" is determined by anatomy and genetics at birth. In addition to marriage licenses, it could affect adoptions, business practices and school bathroom policies.
Reeves heard arguments Monday over a request by Campaign for Southern Equality to challenge the law by reopening its 2014 lawsuit that helped overturn Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage.
He is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday and Friday in two other lawsuits.
The Mississippi Center for Justice filed one of the suits June 3 for a diverse group of gay and straight plaintiffs. It says the law violates the separation of church and state by favoring "certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations and condemn transgender people."
The other suit was filed June 10 by Campaign for Southern Equality and an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Susan Hrostowski. It says House Bill 1523 "rather than respect that all men (and women) are created equal, declares that certain people — only those who hold particular state-defined religious beliefs — should have special rights and privileges. Even worse, it allows them to exercise those special rights and privileges in derogation of the fundamental equality and dignity of a politically unpopular minority group."
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