Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves blocked a key provision of Mississippi’s HB 1523 that was scheduled to take effect this Friday. The new law—which Americans United has opposed since its introduction in February—would create sweeping religious exemptions for those who object to marriage equality, including county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Until June 2015, Mississippi refused to recognize marriages of same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges halted that discriminatory practice, but the Mississippi legislature quickly passed HB 1523 in an attempt to make an end-run around the Court’s decision.
Judge Reeves’ order, however, makes clear that Mississippi cannot use HB 1523 to circumvent the constitution and allow state employees to discriminate on the government’s behalf: “the State is permitting the differential treatment to be carried out by individual clerks. A statewide policy has been ‘pushed-down’ to an individual-level policy. But the alleged constitutional infirmity is the same.”
This is certainly not the end of states attempting to resist marriage equality, nor is it the death knell for the other forms of discrimination that HB 1523 could allow, but it is an important affirmation that Obergefell is the law of the land. As Judge Reeves properly noted, “elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement … [b]ut the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session.”