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Court: Mississippi Clerks Can't Use Religion to Deny Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples

Illustration for article titled Court: Mississippi Clerks Cant Use Religion to Deny Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples

A federal judge has ruled against a Mississippi law that would have allowed court clerks to cite their religious beliefs to refuse to issue marriage licenses or perform marriage ceremonies to same-sex couples. The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” was widely cited as one of the worst pieces of anti-LGBT legislation, but not all of it has been struck down.


The Protecting Freedom Whatever Whatever This Is Not a Gay Panic Bill—also known as House Bill 1523—was signed by Governor Phil Bryant in April and would have gone into effect July 1. It only protected a few very specific religious beliefs where marriage is concerned. From the bill:

The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.


Besides protecting state employees from the terror of helping gay people marry, the law also stipulates that religious organizations can’t be penalized for discriminatory actions against LGBT people. Those actions include refusing to provide housing, adoption or foster care services, and firing or disciplining employees.

The law also has anti-trans implications, allowing religious belief-havers to establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings.” And medical professionals are allowed to refuse to participate “in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning or declines to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling” if it offends their religious beliefs.

Truly a bigot’s dream, who should be cheered to learn that the aspects of the law governing private individuals haven’t been touched. But the part where government officials were given carte blanche to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation is a no-go, ruled U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, in a lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Southern Equality.

The ACLU of Mississippi has also sued over aspects of HB 1523; they’re representing a couple named Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, who were engaged at the time. Alford said at a press conference that the law “relegates us to second-tier status:”


The Associated Press reports that Reeves has not yet ruled on other lawsuits that seek to block all of the law from being implemented.


Governor Bryant insisted at the time he signed the bill that it didn’t discriminate against anyone’s constitutionally protected rights, but he was wrong.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Judge Reeves ruled today in the suit brought by the ACLU. The suit that Reeves ruled on today was brought by the Campaign for Southern Equality.


Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523 during a rally outside the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss., Monday, April 4, 2016. Photo via AP

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.

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*sigh* You guys! This is precisely the type of fuckery that the First Amendment was drafted to prevent. What could POSSIBLY make anyone think that a law like this wouldn’t be struck down?