Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi issued a preliminary injunction, sought by Paul, Weiss clients the Campaign for Southern Equality and The Rev. Dr. Susan Hrostowski, preventing Mississippi's HB 1523, from going into effect on July 1. Judge Reeves's 60-page opinion was filed less than an hour before the law was scheduled to go into effect.
HB 1523, the so-called "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," identifies three specific religious beliefs-(a) that marriage is only between a man and a woman, (b) that sex is only proper within a man-woman marriage, and (c) that transgender and intersex people do not exist because all people are born and remain objectively male or female-and grants the holders of those religious beliefs broad immunity from local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws. The law also permits circuit clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, would allow all state employees to verbally harass LGBT people at work without fear of discipline, and creates a private right of action agfainst LGBT people and others who seek to vindicate their rights under existing anti-discrimination laws.
After a two-day preliminary injunction hearing last Thursday and Friday, Judge Reeves issued a sweeping opinion enjoining the law on both Equal Protection and Establishment Clause grounds. The court held that HB 1523 violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was enacted with the sole purpose of "put[ting] LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell." The court further held that HB 1523 violates the Establishment Clause by giving special privileges to citizens who hold the law's preferred religious beliefs, which "indicates that [opposite beliefs are] disfavored, minority beliefs, while citizens who hold [the preferred religious beliefs] are preferred members of the majority." The court also held that HB 1523 violates the Establishment Clause because a permissible religious accommodation cannot cause harm to others, and the law's "broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."
Click here to read the full opinion
On June 26, Judge Reeves granted the Campaign for Southern Equality's motion to reopen their 2014 marriage equality case in order to modify the permanent injunction to respond the provision of HB 1523 that would permit clerks to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.