Monday, June 6, 2016
JACKSON Mississippi pastors, community leaders, activists and a Hattiesburg church have filed a federal lawsuit challenging House Bill 1523, the third legal challenge to the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act."
The plaintiffs have sued the governor, the attorney general, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the state registrar of vital records, asking the federal court to issue an injunction blocking the bill from becoming state law on July 1. Gov. Phil Bryant recently received a Religious Freedom Award for his actions.
The lawsuit says that "with the passage and approval of that bill, the Legislature and the Governor breached the separation of church and state, and specifically endorsed certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations, and condemn transgender people."
Jackson-based lawyer Rob McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice will represent the plaintiffs. McDuff said the plaintiffs include people the Center for Justice knew were opposed to HB 1523, as well as others they found through word-of-mouth.
Plaintiffs in the case include long-time civil-rights advocates Rims Barber and Carol Burnett and retired Millsaps Chaplain Don Fortenberry, who are ordained ministers; the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church in Hattiesburg, its pastor Brandiilyne Magnum-Dear and its director of worship, Susan Magnum; Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson; Susan Glisson, founding director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi; long-time therapist and activist Joan Bailey; artist and activist Katherine Day; and community activists Dorothy Triplett, Renick Taylor and Anthony Lane Boyette.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Section 2 of HB 1523, which defines marriage as the "union between one man and one woman" and says "sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage" and that "male or female refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth."
The lawsuit alleges that HB 1523 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it "endorses certain specific religious beliefs and moral convictions."
The ACLU also filed a lawsuit against the State Registrar for Vital Records, challenging House Bill 1523, focusing on its violation of Due Process and Equal Protection clauses when same-sex couples try to get a marriage license in the state of Mississippi. McDuff said he wanted to make the Establishment Clause argument a part of the discussion.
"First of all, 1523 demonizes people, and second of all, it chooses certain religious beliefs over others," he told the Jackson Free Press.
The lawsuit also addresses the 2014 Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying "to the extent government accommodation is required for the religious beliefs that are endorsed and given special protection by Section 2 of H.B. 1523, those beliefs were already sufficiently protected by MS RFRA in a manner which did not specifically endorse and give special status and exclusive protection to certain particular religious beliefs."
"If there is any need to accommodate people's religious beliefs in this arena, that can be dealt with under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which doesn't single out specific religions or religious beliefs," McDuff said.
HB 1523 will become law on July 1, unless a U.S. district judge issues an injunction in either one of the lawsuits, or U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves reopens the Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant lawsuit, which legalized same-sex marriage in the state last year.