JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A diverse group of gay, straight and transgender people have filed the third federal court challenge seeking to block a Mississippi law that lets clerks cite religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The lawsuit filed Friday says House Bill 1523 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.”
“By endorsing these particular religious beliefs that are held by some but not by others, the state not only has acted contrary to the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — but has enacted a law that is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Rob McDuff, private-practice attorney who filed the suit with lawyers for the Mississippi Center for Justice.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a gay couple filed suit last month saying the bill violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
The Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples are challenging the bill by trying to reopen their 2014 lawsuit that helped overturn Mississippi’s ban on gay marriage.
All three lawsuits seek to block the bill from becoming law July 1. They also seek to have it declared unconstitutional.
Mississippi was among at least 10 states where bills were filed this year in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
The bill signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant provides 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.
“The endorsement and special protection of those beliefs and convictions conveys a state-sponsored message of disapproval and hostility to those who do not share those beliefs and convictions, including the plaintiffs and many other Mississippians, and indicates that their status is disfavored in the social and political community of their own home state,” the lawsuit says. “At the same time, the endorsement and special protection of those beliefs and convictions sends a message to Mississippians who do share those beliefs and convictions that they are favored members of the social and political community.”
Among the plaintiffs are three ordained ministers, a straight woman in a long-term relationship, a married lesbian couple and a gay man who’s engaged. The lawsuit said all the plaintiffs disagree with the beliefs protected by the bill.
Bryant on May 26 received an award from the conservative Family Research Council for signing the religious-objections bill this year and a similar Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2014. In his acceptance speech, he said suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay have more religious protection than some Americans.
“A federal judge recently ruled that a female that is in the United States military cannot shackle or escort one of those prisoners. He said we must provide religious accommodations to terrorists at Guantanamo Bay,” Bryant said. “But, for heaven’s sakes, not the businessmen and women of Mississippi. That’s gone too far.”
The ruling Bryant cited was a January 2015 interim order by a military judge who prohibited female guards from having physical contact with Muslim defendants while transporting them around the U.S. military base in Cuba.
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