Opponents say the law will discriminate against same-sex couples and say they will continue to fight it.
Under the specifications of the law, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, the state would be responsible for ensuing the license is issued if the clerk or no other employee in the circuit clerk’s office is willing to issue the license. The law also could prevent businesses from being forced to provide services for same-sex weddings and for other events.
A three judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in June overturned a lower federal court ruling blocking the enactment of the 2016 legislation. And this past Friday, the full panel of the 5th Circuit refused to reconsider the decision of the three-judge panel, paving the way for the law to be enacted at the end of this week.
Opponents of the legislation have indicated they plan to pursue the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether that means the nation’s highest court, which set off the current battle when it approved gay marriage in 2015, would block the enactment of the state legislation remains to be seen.
Jennifer Riley Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi called the law “the most repugnant law of its kind in the United States. It is an insult to our nation in the fight for equality for all and to the ideas held by so many in the Hospitality state.”
She added the law “is on the wrong side of history” and expressed hope that the U.S. Supreme Court steps in “to ensure that all Mississippians are protected. “
The 5th Circuit did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit trying to block the law. The 5th Circuit said the courts should not rule on the constitutionality of the law until someone suffers actual harm, such as discrimination, because of the law. The law originally was blocked in the lower courts in June 2015 before it took effect.
Groups contesting the law, such as the ACLU and the Southern Campaign for Equality, are asking people who might suffer discrimination from the law to contact them.
Groups differ on the practical application of the religious freedom law.
The 5th Circuit acknowledged the bill identifies and protects three beliefs:
- A marriage is between a man and a woman.
- Sex is reserved for married couples.
- A person’s gender is determined a birth.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who continued to pursue the issue in the courts after the law initially was blocked by a federal judge, said, “As I have said from the beginning, this law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional. The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
And Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, said, “I appreciate the decision of the 5th Circuit to clear the legal path for House Bill 1523 to take effect. The legislation simply protects Mississippians from government interference when practicing their deeply held religious beliefs.”
The bill passed the Legislature in 2016 by an overwhelming margin, though, it nearly died on a deadline day in the Senate when it was not taken up until late in the day.
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