Same-Sex Marriage: Federal Judge Rules Clerks Cannot Cite Religion To Refuse Licenses

A federal judge in Mississippi has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights, continuing the federal trend of protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeve handed down a ruling on Monday that would prevent county clerks from citing their religious beliefs to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling came in response to a Mississippi bill HB 1523, which would have gone into effect in the state on Friday. The bill had been touted by proponents as a “religious freedom law,” and it would have allowed clerks in the state the right to invoke their religious beliefs in order to deny marriage licenses, now a guaranteed civil right for American adults, to same-sex couples in the state.

As The New Civil Rights Movement reports, the bill had already been signed by Republican Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, and it undoubtedly would have put a damper on same-sex marriage rights if not for the ruling of the federal judge.

The case against the new same-sex marriage bill was argued in federal court by Roberta Kaplan, who rose to fame when she successfully argued for and won the historic DOMA case at the Supreme Court.

“Judge Reeves reaffirmed the authority of federal courts to say what the United States Constitution means.”

The federal judge’s Monday ruling only addresses part of the so-called Mississippi “religious freedom law.” Other aspects of the controversial law related same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights are still being considered by the Mississippi federal judge. The law also seeks to allow people to cite their “religious beliefs” when it comes to bathroom rights for transgender students in the state of Mississippi, reports Madison Press.

The federal judge’s same-sex marriage ruling is an extension of a previous order that he made which overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage. According to the presiding federal judge, circuit clerks are required by law to provide equitable treatment and services for all residents, regardless of their sexual orientation. This includes providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and that this job requirement cannot be opted-out of by invoking religious beliefs.

The Mississippi bill, HB 1523, was drafted by Mississippi legislators and signed into law by the state’s government in direct response to the Supreme Court’s historic same-sex marriage ruling last summer. The Campaign for Southern Equality filed a lawsuit to prevent the new law from going into effect almost immediately in federal court.

Many of the plaintiffs that testified against the implementation of the new Mississippi law that would have allowed county clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples based upon their religious beliefs were religious themselves. They testified to the federal judge that discrimination against the LGBT community, including denying same-sex couples the basic civil right of marriage, were not religious principles.

Other people who testified against the implementation of the controversial anti-LGBT HB 1523 say that it would have made their children unsafe and could have led to the bullying and even deaths of members of the LGBT community.

Parts of Mississippi’s highly-controversial HB 1523 still to be ruled upon by the federal judge include preventing people from being punished for denying services to individuals based upon their personal or religious beliefs that gender is determined at birth and/or based upon beliefs that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” (I.e., a marriage between one man and one woman.) Other parts of HB 1523, should they be allowed to go into effect in Friday, would prevent the government from preventing companies from firing transgender employees. It would also allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples or couples who they think could be engaging in premarital sex.

The federal judge’s ruling on the remaining aspects of the Mississippi case, apart from the same-sex marriage portion he’s already shot down, are expected by Friday when the law is slated to go into effect.

[Image via Shutterstock]