Judge strikes down Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ law

Late Thursday, minutes before Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ law was to go into effect, a federal judge struck it down. The law would have allowed business and government employees to deny service to LGBTQ people based on religious beliefs.

In his 60-page decision, Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote that House Bill 1523, which Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law in April, “violates both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws.”

On June 27, Reeves issued a permanent injunction that forbade the state’s circuit clerks from denying marriage certificates to same-sex couples, gutting part of the legislation.

Bryant said he plans to launch an “aggressive appeal” at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the Associated Press.

Susan Hrostowski is an Episcopalian minister in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and directs the Campaign for Southern Equality, which sued her home state after Bryant signed HB 1523. She said she feared the law would embolden people to mistreat her, her wife and their son.

Shortly after midnight Friday, she said she awoke suddenly and rushed to check her email to learn the judge’s decision. The words she saw from her lawyer left her elated: They had won.

“Right away, you can breathe easier,” she said Friday morning.

Hrostowski said she and her family can now walk into a restaurant or call for air-conditioner repairs to their home and not worry about being turned away or dismissed simply because they are a same-sex couple.

They anticipate a long fight ahead, she said, but today, they plan to celebrate.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the law “is hardly protecting the least among us as Jesus directed,” in a written statement released Friday.

“The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms,” his statement said. “Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies.”

Reeves said Mississippi’s law was a direct response to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

The law was designed to allow businesses, government employees and individuals to use “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions” to justify denying service to LGBTQ people.

For example, the state could not force a counselor to provide therapy to someone who happened to be lesbian if that client’s way of life conflicted with the counselor’s religious views, said Rob Chambers, national field director for the American Family Association Action group, which advocated for the law.

“Really, all the law is doing is providing a measure of protection,” Chambers said.

Mississippi’s law was considered one of the most draconian in the country, according to Eunice Rho of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the state received backlash after its legislature passed the law and Bryant signed it. Nearly 100 authors from the state signed a petition to reject the law. Rock star Bryan Adams refused to perform his April 14 concert in Biloxi, and organizers cancelled New York City’s annual Mississippi Picnic in Central Park for the first time in nearly four decades.

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