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On January 8, the US Supreme Court refused to review two cases challenging a Mississippi law that would permit businesses and government employees to deny services to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender (LGBT) people to safeguard a persons’ sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.
The bill, entitled “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination”, was passed in the Mississippi legislature in 2016. It mainly aims to “protect sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” related to marriage and sex. Such protected beliefs are: “(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
The bill states that under the specified circumstances, the government may not take prejudiced action against a state employee for speech associated to the protected religious beliefs and moral convictions. These speeches include refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The law, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Republican Governor Phillip Bryant with the backing of conservative Christian activists, has not yet been implemented and more legal challenges are expected, according to gay rights lawyers.
“We will keep fighting in Mississippi until we overturn this harmful law, and in any state where antigay legislators pass laws to roll back LGBT civil rights,” said Beth Littrell, a lawyer with gay rights group Lambda Legal.
The applicants of the two lawsuits, combined as one, contended that the bill violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as it permits certain religious beliefs and discriminates against those who do not hold those same beliefs. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of an injunction, discovering that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit because they had not yet suffered injury as a result of the law.
The plaintiffs appealed the circuit court’s decision, but the Supreme Court denied review without explanation.
Mississippi’s law was one of a series of measures proposed in socially conservative, Republican-dominated states that gay rights advocates viewed as an attempt to undermine the high court’s gay marriage ruling.
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