Mississippi's draconian "license to discriminate" law, allowing widespread discrimination against LGBT people and others, is now in effect, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling.
A lower court last year issued an injunction preventing the law from taking effect, but today a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted it, saying those who sued to block the law lacked the standing to do so, reports The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss. The Fifth Circuit did not rule on the merits of the law.
House Bill 1523, signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant last year, allows businesses, individuals, and religiously affiliated organizations to deny service to LGBT people, single mothers, and others who somehow offend an individual's "sincerely held religious belief." It also directly targets transgender residents, effectively claiming that one's sex assigned at birth is immutable, and will be the only gender recognized by the state.
Titled the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, it states that the government cannot penalize an individual, organization, or business for acting according to the following "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions": that "marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman"; that "sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage"; and that "male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth." While the legislation was being considered, there were numerous protests at the Mississippi capitol and throughout the state.
A suit brought by the Campaign for Southern Equality against the law had been consolidated with another brought by Mississippi civil rights attorney Robert McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice, joined by Lambda Legal, both on behalf of LGBT Mississippians and their allies. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in those cases to block the law as unconstitutional, just before it was set to go into effect last July. Those organizations said they plan to appeal the Fifth Circuit ruling, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a separate suit, will continue to pursue it.
The Campaign for Southern Equality will ask for the full Fifth Circuit to review the panel's ruling; if the court agrees to such a review, the law will continue to be blocked, according to the group.
"This decision is not only deeply upsetting for the rights of LGBT individuals living in Mississippi, but also for the protection of religious liberty in our country," said Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Campaign for Southern Equality suit, in a press release. "Our clients have already suffered enough. The state communicated a message loudly and clearly with the passage of HB 1523: only certain anti-LGBT beliefs will get the protection and endorsement of the state. Under the logic of this opinion, it would be constitutional for the state of Mississippi to pass a law establishing Southern Baptist as the official state religion. We plan to seek an en banc review of the decision by the Fifth Circuit."
ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins issued this statement: "We are ready to move forward with our case filed on behalf of ACLU members Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, who are planning to marry in Mississippi in the near future. That case was put on hold until the court of appeals ruled. We will continue to proceed on behalf of Nykolas and Stephen to protect them, and other same-sex couples from this harmful and discriminatory law."
Added Rob Hill, Mississippi state director for the Human Rights Campaign: "We are deeply disappointed that the actions taken today by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals clear the path for the anti-LGBTQ law HB 1523 to take effect in Mississippi. This law -- now the most discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ state law in the country -- was rooted in hate, it targets the LGBTQ communit,y and it is a deliberate attempt to undermine marriage equality and the dignity of LGBTQ Mississippians who lawmakers have sworn to serve and protect. We will continue to fight tooth and nail against HB 1523 until it no longer threatens our community."