Politics & Government

‘Religious freedom law’ will remain blocked during appeal, court rules

Deborah Watkins, left, and Anita Twiner of Long Beach apply for a marriage license at the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport on Monday June 29, 2015.
Deborah Watkins, left, and Anita Twiner of Long Beach apply for a marriage license at the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport on Monday June 29, 2015. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

An appeals court has ruled Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom law” will not take effect before an appeal is complete.

In doing so, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Gov. Phil Bryant’s request to stay a decision by federal Judge Carlton Reeves that blocked HB 1523 just hours before it was take effect July 1.

HB 1523, passed by the Legislature and signed by Bryant, specifically protected three beliefs: Marriage is only between a man and a woman; sexual relations should take place only inside marriage; and a person’s “immutable biological sex” is determined at birth.

Proponents of the bill argued it protected First Amendment religious rights. Opponents contended the law protected only one set of beliefs and discriminated against LGBT people.

“Religious freedom was one of the building blocks of this great nation,” Reeves wrote in his decision blocking the law, “and after the nation was torn apart, the guarantee of equal protection under the law was used to stitch it back together. But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”

Bryant appealed and asked the appeals court to stay Reeves’ injunction while the appeal was processed. Essentially, he asked the court to allow HB 1523 to be implemented pending the appeal.

The appeals court declined.

In deciding whether to stay a preliminary injunction, according to the court’s decision, judges consider:

▪ 1. “Whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits.”

▪ 2. “Whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay.”

▪ 3. “Whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding.”

▪ 4. “Where the public interest lies.”

The decision not to stay the injunction is not a ruling on the merits of the case itself.

The appeals court also denied the state’s motion to expedite the appeal but did agree to consolidate three related cases.

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