Judge: Clerks Cannot Refuse To Issue Gay Marriage Licenses Regardless Of State Law

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Casey Harper Contributor
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A federal judge has negated part of Mississippi’s new law that allowed clerks to refuse issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a permanent injunction Monday that bans circuit clerks or staff clerks from refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, regardless of a new state law that would have allowed the refusal, The Clarion-Ledger reports.

Republican Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill in April that protects people who refuse service because of their sincerely-held religious beliefs on marriage, premarital sex and gender. The law came after the Obergefell ruling, where the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage nationwide, as well as a string of cases where people faced legal action for refusing to service gay weddings.

The Mississippi law, HB1523, specifically says that people can refuse service based on their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sex should remain within marriage, and that a person’s gender corresponds with their anatomy at birth.

The bill’s advocates sought to protect wedding vendors such as florists or bakers who refused to service gay weddings as well as government employees like Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious beliefs. The judge’s Monday ruling keeps intact the other protections, like those for florists and bakers, but removes the protection for the Kim Davis-style clerks in Mississippi.

“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,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. “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.”

The law is scheduled to take effect Friday.

“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,” the judge wrote. “But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session.”

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