Mississippi will fight challenges to religious exemptions laws

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EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi government attorneys are opposing two legal challenges to a new state law that will let circuit clerks cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Both challenges were filed in federal court this month. One is a new lawsuit, and one is an attempt to reopen a 2014 lawsuit that helped overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage. State attorneys filed responses to both this week.

Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples filed papers May 10 seeking to reopen their 2014 lawsuit to challenge the new law. State attorneys said Tuesday that the lawsuit should remain shut.

The American Civil Liberties Union and a gay couple from Meridian on May 9 sued Judy Moulder, the state registrar of vital records. They’re asking a federal judge to declare that House Bill 1523 violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. They’re also seeking an injunction that would block the bill from becoming law July 1.

Mississippi’s law is among similar measures being passed across the country in response to last summer’s Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Special Assistant Attorney General Doug Miracle, representing Moulder, argues there’s no reason for a judge to block the law. Even if a circuit clerk refuses to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, the bill says someone in the office must issue it promptly, Miracle wrote in papers filed Tuesday.

Clerks recusing themselves from issuing licenses must file a form with the vital records registrar, which is why the plaintiffs sued Moulder.

Miracle wrote that “there may never be a recusal by any government employee” to issue a marriage license in any of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

“Even if some recusals are invoked in the future, these particular plaintiffs may seek a marriage license from a clerk’s office in which there have been no recusals,” Miracle wrote.

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