Federal Judge Blocks Mississippi Religious Freedom Law

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant delivers the 2015 State of the State address. Photo credit: Bryant Press Office.

A Federal judge blocked a Mississippi religious freedom law designed to protect opponents of gay marriage from going into effect Friday morning.

House Bill 1523, or the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” protected people who hold certain beliefs on marriage and sexuality from being discriminated against as a result of those beliefs. The law would have had three main effects: First, the law would have allowed government clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Second, it would have also allowed business owners to deny service to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals . Finally, the law would have protected religious institutions from being punished by the government for not participating in same-sex marriages.

House Bill 1523 was passed by the Mississippi State Senate on March 30, 2016 by a vote of 32-17. The Mississippi House of Representatives passed the bill two days later by a vote of 69-44 and sent it to the Governor’s desk. Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill on April 5, 2016. The law would have gone into effect this morning.

In his ruling, US District Judge Carlton Reeves stated that he believed the law was an attempt by the government of Mississippi to “put LGBT citizens back in their place. Referencing the 2015 gay marriage ruling by the US Supreme Court, Reeves wrote, “In physics, every action has its equal and opposite reaction. In politics, every action has its predictable overreaction.”

Reeves continued: “The state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others. HB 1523 favors Southern Baptist over Unitarian doctrine, Catholic over Episcopalian doctrine, and Orthodox Judaism over Reform Judaism doctrine, to list just a few examples.”

Governor Phil Bryant strongly disagreed. “Like I said when I signed House Bill 1523, the law simply provides religious accommodations granted by many other states and federal law,” Bryant said in a statement. “I am disappointed Judge Reeves did not recognize that reality. I look forward to an aggressive appeal.”

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