A federal judge on Monday agreed with plaintiffs challenging a Mississippi law that protects marriage equality opponents, saying that it conflicts with the Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling.
The high court last year found that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry.
Republican Governor Phil Bryant in April signed House Bill 1523 into law. The law, which takes effect Friday, states that clerks may recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses when their “sincerely held religious beliefs” dictate that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.” Such a recusal cannot “impede or delay” marriage licensing, the law states.
Opponents of the law asked a federal court to reopen the 2015 case that struck down Mississippi's marriage ban, arguing that the new law, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, violates the permanent injunction they secured in the case.
U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves agreed, saying that “HB 1523 significantly changes the landscape of Mississippi's marriage licensing laws.”
Reeves, however, denied plaintiffs' request to file an additional complaint in the case against the state's registrar.
He stated that the law's recusal provision essentially allows the state to treat gay and lesbian couples differently from straight couples.
“In [the recusal provision], the State is permitting the differential treatment to be carried out by individual clerks,” he wrote. “A statewide policy has been 'pushed down' to an individual-level policy. But the alleged constitutional infirmity is the same.”
“The Supreme Court's ruling [in Obergefell] will be enforced,” Reeves added.