JACKSON, Miss. — A second appeal has been filed by same-sex marriage supporters who want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Mississippi law letting government workers and business people cite religious objections to refuse services to LGBT people.
The Monday appeal comes from the Campaign for Southern Equality, 20 days after Mississippi’s law took effect. Legal experts say it’s the broadest religious-objections law enacted by any state since the nation’s high court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.
Lawyers for two other groups filed an appeal earlier.
House Bill 1523 was championed and signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in 2016, but the law had been on hold amid federal court challenges. It protects three beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, sex should only take place in such a marriage, and a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
In Monday’s appeal, attorneys for the Rev. Susan Hrostowski, a Hattiesburg professor and Episcopal priest, wrote that the Supreme Court needs to take the case because the 5th Circuit’s ruling splits with other circuits who have found that “stigmatic harm” against religious minorities is enough reason for a law to be overturned. The 5th Circuit allows the law to take effect because it found that the plaintiffs, who sued before it took effect, hadn’t personally confronted the harm and didn’t have standing to sue.
Lawyers for Hrostowski say that makes for an “absurd” result.
“Obviously, a statute is not like a religious display; it does not necessarily send its message visually,” lawyers wrote. “Rather, it stigmatizes adherents of disfavored religions simply by virtue of governing their lives through state law. Although the 5th Circuit concluded that nobody is injured by HB 1523 today, by its own logic, that would change if the governor were to decide to display its text in big, neon letters on a sign on his lawn in front of the governor’s mansion.”
The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will consider the appeals.
The Mississippi law allows clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and protects merchants who refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. It could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies. Opponents say it also allows pharmacies to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for unmarried women.