JACKSON — A federal judge on Monday denied a request by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to allow a law that protects religious objections to same-sex marriage to take effect during an appeal.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who blocked the law hours before it would have taken effect July 1, made the ruling.
Bryant and Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis are appealing Reeves’ original decision. They’ve already asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to let the law take effect. Reeves explicitly acknowledged that the New Orleans-based appeals court will now consider the law, closing Monday’s ruling by writing “the baton is now passed.”
HB 1523 sought to protect actions motivated by three beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sex should only take place in such a marriage, and that a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
It would allow individual county clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and would protect merchants who refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. It could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies.
Opponents said the law institutionalized discrimination, while backers said it was needed to ensure religious freedom after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Mississippi’s GOP-dominated political establishment continues to defend the law — Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, all Republicans, supported HB 1523 in speeches last week.
The law’s opponents had asked Reeves to leave his preliminary injunction in effect during any appeal, saying Bryant hasn’t shown any proof his appeal will succeed. They say the law would cause immediate harm to same-sex couples, transgender people and people who’ve had sex outside marriage.
Reeves wrote in his ruling that Bryant and Davis didn’t meet any of the tests for him to lift the stay, saying the state hadn’t proved it was likely to succeed on appeal, hadn’t shown it would be injured during a stay, hadn’t shown that opponents wouldn’t be injured and hadn’t shown a stay was in the public interest.
“Enjoining this particular piece of legislation results in no injury to the state or its citizens. A Mississippian — or a religious entity for that matter — holding any of the beliefs set out for special protection in section 2 may invoke existing protections for religious liberty, including Mississippi’s Constitution, Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the First Amendment to the United State Constitution,” the judge wrote. “HB 1523’s absence does not impair the free exercise of religion.”
Bryant’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
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