Late on June 30, just before midnight when the law would have officially taken effect – U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves ruled to strike down House Bill 1523, yet another anti-LGBT law passed earlier this year by the state of Mississippi. The law is now prohibited from taking effect as it was scheduled to today, July 1.
In his 60-page opinion provided by Equality Case Files, Reeves wrote that, through HB 1523, the state grants privileges to people who hold certain moral convictions which “violates both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws.”
When it was signed into law in April by Governor Phil Bryant, HB 1523 aimed to allow clerks to cite religious objections so that they could recuse themselves from granting same-sex couples marriage licenses. In addition, the law incorporated three beliefs that businesses could cite in order to refuse service to clients. The three beliefs included the following: that marriage should only be between one man and one woman, that sexual intercourse should only happen in such a marriage, and that one’s gender is assigned at birth and cannot be changed.
Based on the wording of HB 1523, it is not only same-sex couples or LGBT people who could face discrimination, but any person who lives a life that is outside the “moral conviction” of any business owner. In an ironic twist, this means that even Christians could have faced discrimination under this law from a person who does not hold the same religious beliefs or moral convictions of the Christian faith. Therefore, state leaders used misinformation and fear-mongering to create this unconstitutional bill.
This was pointed out by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood when he released this statement in response to Judge Reeves’ decision:
“I can’t pick my clients, but I can speak for myself as a named defendant in this lawsuit. The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB 1523 protected religious freedoms. Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man.”
In a brief phone interview with John Perkins, a life-long Mississippi resident, Gay Rights advocate, and co-founder of Mississippi Rainbow Center, Perkins shared his feelings on the bill’s passing; “I felt like Mississippi thought of me as nothing more than second class citizen. It was using religion to discriminate against me for being LGBT. It created a law where no law was needed. It was only made to discriminate in retaliation to same-sex marriage being made legal.”
When I asked John how he felt about yet another law being made to protect those in his state with deeply held religious beliefs, he became obviously frustrated, saying “You can’t make a law in the name of religion; everyone has freedom of religion and freedom from religion. This is our Mississippi, also and all of its citizens should be treated equally. Looking back at Mississippi history, the state should learn you can’t treat marginalized groups of people different from those who are already protected under the Constitution.”
The response by Mississippi citizens and national organizations was quick and purposeful, “We immediately organized rallies and protests in different cities across the state to send a message we would not stand for this unconstitutional law.,” said Perkins.
Reeves made headlines in 2014 when he struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Mississippi, which was enacted after a majority vote in 2004. Many believed at the time Mississippi would be the last state to allow same-sex marriage, however Judge Reeves showed that even Mississippi was ready to move into the 21st century and leave behind the times of open and legal discrimination. For this reason, it came as no surprise to many that Judge Reeves made the decision to strike down this sinister law.