Friday, June 24, 2016
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is the only state to enact a law listing specific religious beliefs to be protected in reaction to the legalization of same-sex marriage, a professor testified Thursday in federal court.
UCLA law professor Douglas NeJaime testified on behalf of plaintiffs who filed two lawsuits seeking to block Mississippi's House Bill 1523 , a religious-exemptions bill, from becoming law July 1.
The Mississippi law would protect three beliefs: That marriage should only be between a man and a woman, that sex should only take place within such a marriage and that a person's gender is set at birth. It would allow clerks to cite those beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to gay or lesbian couples. In addition to marriage licenses, it could affect adoptions, business practices and school bathroom policies.
NeJaime said more than 100 bills were filed in more than 20 state legislatures across the nation after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling nearly a year ago that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
He said two bills were signed into law by governors — the one in Mississippi and the "Pastor Protection Act" in Florida, which says clergy, churches, religious schools and other religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for marriage celebrations that violate "a sincerely held religious belief."
In response to an attorney's question, NeJaime said a North Carolina law dealing with transgender people and public bathrooms does not fall into the category of religious-exemptions bills filed in response to the gay marriage ruling.
NeJaime said the Mississippi legislation was "both narrower and broader" than bills considered in other states — narrower in that it lists specific religious beliefs that would be protected, and broader in that it applies to government employees, religious groups and private business people.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is hearing testimony Thursday and Friday in the challenge to the Mississippi legislation, but he hasn't said when he will rule on plaintiffs' request to block it. Regardless of whether he puts the law on hold or lets it take effect, attorneys have already said the losing side is likely to appeal his decision.
Attorneys trying to block the law argued it violates the Constitution by preferring certain religious beliefs and by creating unequal treatment of gay people.
State attorneys argued it provides reasonable protection for sincere beliefs.