JACKSON, Miss. — A federal judge who was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama has struck down part of Mississippi’s Freedom of Conscience Act, requiring clerks within the state to issue “gay marriage” licenses despite their religious convictions.
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.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Carlton 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.
“Having reviewed the relevant section of HB 1523, the parties’ arguments, and the scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, the Court finds that (Section) 3(8)(a) may in fact amend Mississippi’s marriage licensing regime in such a way as to conflict with Obergefell,” Reeves wrote.
“Mississippi’s elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit—by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example,” he said. “But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session.”
The rest of H.B. 1523 will go into effect on July 1.
“If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice their religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights,” Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves remarked in a statement following the court ruling. “I hope the state’s attorneys will quickly appeal this decision to the 5th Circuit to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of all Mississippians.”