In a limited ruling against the newly enacted “religious freedom” law in Mississippi seen to enable sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination, a federal judge has agreed to reopen a case that sought marriage equality in the state to block the portion of the law allowing clerks to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, an Obama appointee who in 2014 ruled against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, issued a subsequent order on Monday asserting authority to issue an injunction against HB 1523 on the basis that it interferes with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality nationwide.
“Mississippi’s elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit – by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example,” Reeves writes. “But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session. And the judiciary will remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly.”
Although after the Obergefell decision the attorney general issued a letter to clerks instructing them to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Reeves writes he’s not persuaded the 81 clerks in Mississippi understand they’re bound to it and asks for an agreement on an injunction so he may more clearly hold them in contempt of court if they refuse licenses under HB 1523.
The order is the result of a motion from Roberta Kaplan, the New York-based lesbian attorney who successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. To challenge Mississippi’s “religious freedom” law, Kaplan sought to re-open her subsequent lawsuit seeking marriage equality in the state on behalf of the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Kaplan said the order amount to Reeves saying “there’s housekeeping that needs to be done” to ensure compliance with the Obergefell decision despite HB 1523.
“It’s essentially an eloquent judicial statement of the power of federal courts to enforce Supreme Court opinions and the Constitution in all 50 states, including Mississippi, despite efforts by the Mississippi legislature to get around it,” Kaplan said.
Signed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in April, HB 1523 is seen to enable sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.” The law permits clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, provided someone else in their office can offer the service, and allows business and individuals to deny services to same-sex couples as well as transition-related care to transgender people. HB 1523 is set to go into effect July 1.
The order doesn’t impose an injunction against the religious freedom law at the present time, nor it does impact other portions of law enabling sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination aside the issuing of marriage licenses.
Kaplan said she’s expecting another order from the judge as soon as this week addressing other aspects of HB 1523 as a result of another pending lawsuit before the court.
“So, in a lot of ways, I can say to people, this is just the appetizer,” Kaplan said. “The fried chicken and grits are coming later in the week.”