Civil Rights

ACLU sues over Mississippi 'religious freedom' law, says it violates landmark SCOTUS marriage ruling

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Saying that the “religious freedom” statute set to take effect in Mississippi later this year would impose special “separate but unequal” rules on same-sex married couples, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against a state official Monday.

In the suit, Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, a same-sex engaged couple, and the ACLU of Mississippi challenge on Fourteenth Amendment grounds the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, the Washington Post (reg. req.) reports.

The law, which is scheduled to take effect July 1, will allow businesses to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples in marriage-related matters—as well as allow practitioners to withhold counseling and medical services—based on religious objections. The law also allows court clerks to refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, and establishes a registry for those who plan to opt out of doing so. Hence, the official in charge of that registry is the named defendant in the ACLU suit.

The complaint says the law, which is also known as House Bill 1523, is unconstitutional on its face, violating constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. The plaintiffs call on the federal court to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling last year, contending that the Mississippi law eviscerates the marriage rights of same-sex couples.

One of the rationales behind the law is that same-sex couples can still get the same services from someone else who does not object to providing them. However, this puts same-sex couples in a “second-tier” category in which they are routinely subject to discrimination in a wide range of activities including celebrating anniversaries, adopting children and seeking medical care for fertility issues, the ACLU suit says.

“Even if no discrimination actually occurs, the second-tier status tells all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

Filed in federal court in Jackson, the suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional and court orders banning its enforcement.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the law into effect in April. He said through a spokesman Monday that the ACLU is “trying to use the federal court system to push its liberal agenda,” CNN reports. “Instead of cherry-picking causes popular with the radical left, the ACLU should allocate its resources defending all civil liberties,” the governor said.

Bryant said when he signed the bill that it was “designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived.”

The Associated Press and the Jackson Free Press also have stories.

Related coverage: “New Mississippi law lets those with ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ refuse service to LGBT community”

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