The attorney general’s office represented Hood and Bryant in multiple lawsuits that challenged the law, but Hood himself didn’t appear in court and never spoke forcefully in favor of it. Bryant will be represented on appeal by two St. Louis-based attorneys who are not charging for their work, the governor’s spokesman Clay Chandler said Wednesday.
Bryant said in a statement Wednesday he is “disappointed the attorney general has abandoned his duty to defend the constitutionality of a duly enacted statute.”
“This appeal is about the state’s legitimate interest in protecting religious liberty — not political posturing about tax reform or the state budget,” Bryant said. “Mississippi Democrats’ failed policies have rendered them unable to win elections, so they have joined secular progressives in their attempts to legislate through the courts.”
Bryant won a second term last year and can’t seek re-election in 2019. Hood, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, said last week that he doesn’t know whether he will run for governor or seek a fifth term as attorney general in 2019. He said he could go into private practice.
A similar partisan rift between the Republican governor and the Democratic attorney general developed in North Carolina over a bill dealing with transgender people and bathrooms. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill and Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to defend the law in court, saying it hurts North Carolina’s economy. Cooper is challenging McCrory in the governor’s race this year.
Hood said Wednesday that Mississippi has no law that would force clergy members to perform weddings for same-sex couples, and the state enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2014 that would protect private businesspeople and others from violating their own beliefs.
“To appeal HB 1523 and fight for an empty bill that dupes one segment of our population into believing it has merit while discriminating against another is just plain wrong,” Hood said. “I don’t believe that’s the way to carry out Jesus’ primary directives to protect the least among us and to love thy neighbor.”
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