JACKSON, Miss. — A federal judge appointed to the bench by Barack Obama is refusing to lift his injunction against Mississippi’s Freedom of Conscience Act, requiring clerks within the state to issue “gay marriage” licenses despite their religious convictions.
“Issuing a marriage license to a gay couple is not like being forced into armed combat or to assist with an abortion,” Judge Carlton Reeves wrote on Friday. “To the extent the preliminary injunction will help alleviate the damage wrought on this State by an HB 1523-caused economic boycott, moreover, that too supports denying a stay of the injunction.”
As previously reported, in April, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law H.B. 1523, also known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. It was sharply criticized homosexual and transgender advocates.
“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth,” the legislation, authored by House Speaker Phillip Gunn, reads.
The bill prohibits the government from punishing those who decline to officiate same-sex ceremonies or provide services or accommodations for the celebrations, as well as those whose policies require use of locker and restrooms consistent with their biological gender.
It does not permit persons to refuse service in general, but only to decline forms of personal participation in events that conflict with their faith.
But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a legal challenge over the matter, representing two homosexual men—Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas—who called the law a “slap in the face” to their plans to tie the knot.
“H.B. 1523 has no rightful place in Mississippi or in our history books, and we’re hopeful this lawsuit can stop as much of it as possible before it goes into effect,” ACLU attorney Josh Block said in a statement.
In June, Reeves struck down part of H.B. 1523, while leaving the rest of the law intact. He issued an order stating that all 82 county clerks must issue same-sex “marriage” licenses to homosexuals despite their religious beliefs, opining that an opt-out would run contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges.
The state then asked Reeves to issue a stay of his order while the matter moves forward in court, but he refused.
“A Mississippian—or a religious entity for that matter—holding any of the beliefs set out for special protection in [HB 1523] may invoke existing protections for religious liberty, including Mississippi’s Constitution, Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the First Amendment to the United State Constitution,” he wrote on Friday. “HB 1523’s absence does not impair the free exercise of religion.”
The case has been appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.