Federal Judge: Clerks Cannot Cite Religious Beliefs To Deny Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

A federal judge on Monday ruled that Mississippi’s new law that allows county clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs “was, effectively, an impermissible attempt to get around the Supreme Court’s marriage decision,” reports Buzzfeed News.

“[T]he Supreme Court’s [Obergefell v. Hodges] ruling will be enforced,” U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves wrote in his ruling, referring to the landmark Supreme Court ruling last year that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The ruling prevents the State of Mississippi from allowing parts of HB 1523, a so-called “religious freedom” law, from taking effect Friday. This means no circuit clerk or staff member clerk can deny a gay couple a marriage license even if House Bill 1523 is in effect.

The Clarion Ledger writes:

Until June 2015, states like Mississippi treated same-sex couples differently than opposite-sex couples in the marriage licensing and recognition process, according to Reeves. He said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell allowing same-sex marriages and the permanent injunction were issued to halt that practice,.

“Having reviewed the relevant section of HB 1523, the parties’ arguments,and the scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, the Court finds that § 3(8)(a) may in fact amend Mississippi’s marriage licensing regime in such a way as to conflict with Obergefell,” the judge said in Monday’s ruling.. “Section 3(8)(a) is a significant change sufficient to reopen this case and reconsider the language of the permanent injunction.”

“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. But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session, Reeves said. “And the judiciary will remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly”

Campaign for Southern Equality lead attorney Robert Kaplan argued that HB 1523 violates First Amendment separation of church and state.

“A year after the Supreme Court guaranteed marriage equality in the Obergefell decision, we are delighted that Judge Reeves reaffirmed the power of federal courts to definitively say what the United States Constitution means, recognizing that the issue of gay and lesbian Mississippians’ right to marry on equal terms ‘will not be adjudicated anew after every . . . session’ of the Mississippi Legislature. We are confident that Judge Reeves will rule in favor of the gay and lesbian couples we are proud to represent.” said Kaplan.

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

“If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice their religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said. “I hope the state’s attorneys will quickly appeal this decision to the 5th Circuit to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of all Mississippians.”

Read the full decision here.