Attorney General Jim Hood announced Wednesday afternoon his office no longer would defend the controversial House Bill 1523 that allows public officials and others not to provide services for same-sex marriages.
The legislation, passed during the 2016 session, was overturned recently by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi.
Gov. Phil Bryant, a strong proponent of the legislation, already has filed motions appealing Reeves’ ruling. Outside counsel has volunteered to represent the governor in the appeal.
But Hood said the litigation was too time-consuming and too expensive for his office to continue to pursue after the federal judge struck it down.
In addition, he said religious groups and most businesses already are exempt from providing services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. He said the U.S. Constitution protects churches and ministers from having to participate and that Mississippi had no law requiring most businesses, such as cake makers, to provide services for same-sex weddings.
“Simply stated, all HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill and the need to solve our state’s financial mess,” said Hood, Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat.
A spokeswoman for Hood said last week that at least 442.5 hours already had been spent by attorneys in his office defending the legislation, not including hours spent personally by Hood. In the meantime, he said the litigation is limiting his staff’s ability to defend other lawsuits filed in response to legislation passed in the 2016 session.
Reeves wrote in overturning the law that it attempts to “put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others.”
The law defines marriage as between a man and woman, stipulates that sex should only take place within a marriage and that the gender determined at birth cannot be altered.
The governor said in his appeal, “It is perfectly acceptable for the government to choose the conscientious scruples that it will protect and accommodate, while withholding those protections and accommodations from other deeply held beliefs.”
A key goal of the legislation was to allow circuit clerks to not provide marriage licenses for gay couples if they had a religious objection.
Various business groups and businesses, such as Toyota, which has a plant at Blue Springs, and Nissan, which has a manufacturing plant at Canton, expressed opposition to the bill.
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