Court: Mississippi can enforce LGBT religious objections law - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Court: Mississippi can enforce LGBT religious objections law

Many say the reversal is an attempt to avoid marriage equality. (Photo source: WLOX) Many say the reversal is an attempt to avoid marriage equality. (Photo source: WLOX)
JACKSON, MS (AP/WLOX) -

A federal appeals court says Mississippi can start enforcing a law that will let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a judge's decision that had blocked the law before it could take effect last July.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves had ruled that the law unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for LGBT people.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and other supporters say the law protects beliefs that marriage can be between only a man and a woman, and that a person's gender is determined at birth and cannot be changed.

"House Bill 1523 simply protected Mississippians from government interference when practicing their deeply held religious beliefs, and I appreciate the Fifth Circuit clearing the path for this law to take effect," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said. 

However, from the moment House Bill 1523 was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in April 2016, protests began throughout the state of Mississippi

“This is one of the places where the interests of our clients and the interest in the business community align against the legislature,” said Reilly Morse, executive director of the Mississippi Center for Justice, who filed the original suit against the law that stopped it just minutes before it was to take effect in July. 

WATCH: Click here to watch the Human Rights Campaign discuss the HB 1523 ruling 

THE DECISION: View the 16-page ruling here

Morse and litigant Renick Taylor believe the reversal is an attempt to avoid marriage equality.

“People aren’t going to want to go to the circuit clerk’s office and be told that I don’t approve of you and somebody else is going to have to help you," said Taylor. 

Holly Schankin is owner of Party Girls, which specializes in custom invitation for weddings and other big events. For her, the law isn't applicable.

“This law is weighing the moral values of the business owner over the values of the customer,” Schankin said. “I’m a believer of what you do in your free time is your business, and I’ll serve anybody who comes through my doors.”

Taylor offered some advice to those upset with the ruling.

“This is going to work itself out. This is going to be OK. Don’t panic, don’t do anything rash. I would also extend that to the businesses that may boycott Mississippi over this decision. Don’t punish the poorest state in the union.” 

ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley Collins issued the following statement after the Thursday ruling:

“We are disappointed that the appeals court has reversed the preliminary injunction placed on HB 1523 and dismissed the case. This decision places the plaintiffs and thousands more LGBT Mississippians and single parents in a position where they can actually be harmed for living as their authentic selves. This broad license to discriminate includes provisions that would seek to allow state employees to withhold marriage licenses from same-sex couples.

“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.

“Freedom of religion is one of the most fundamental rights as Americans, but that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or mistreat others.

“The ACLU of Mississippi will continue to advocate for equal protection for our plaintiffs and the LGBT community in Mississippi. We stand ready to defend those who are harmed by any confrontations as a result of this ruling.

“We urge the community to contact us if they or someone they know experiences any discrimination.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press/WLOX. All rights reserved. 

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