Federal judge stops Mississippi from enforcing religious objection law

Attorney Roberta Kaplan

Attorney Roberta Kaplan AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Monday that Mississippi clerks cannot cite their own religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’ ruling blocks the state from enforcing part of a religious objections bill that was supposed to become law Friday.

Reeves is extending his previous order that overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage. He says circuit clerks are required to provide equal treatment for all couples, gay or straight.

Mississippi’s religious objections measure, House Bill 1523, was filed in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide. That ruling is called the Obergefell case, after the man who filed it.

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,” Reeves wrote Monday. “But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session.”

Attorneys were still waiting on rulings from Reeves in two other lawsuits seeking to block all of the religious objections law, including provisions that could affect schools’ bathroom policies for transgender students.

Roberta Kaplan, a New York-based attorney, represents Campaign for Southern Equality in two lawsuits challenging House Bill 1523, including the one on which Reeves ruled Monday. She issued a statement praising his decision.

“A year after the Supreme Court guaranteed marriage equality in the Obergefell decision, we are delighted that Judge Reeves reaffirmed the power of federal courts to definitively say what the United States Constitution means,” Kaplan said.

Spokesmen for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Attorneys for Bryant, a Republican, and Hood, a Democrat, defended House Bill 1523.

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