Circuit clerks along the Mississippi Coast don't foresee problems for same-sex couples who want to marry, even if the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" is signed into law.
In its present form, the bill among other things, would allow a circuit clerk with "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" against same-sex marriages could refuse to issue the license. but must also take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal."
The bill is being held in the Senate on a motion to reconsider and if it overcomes that hurdle, differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill would have to be worked out and the bill would need Gov. Phil Bryant's signature to become law.
Since a Supreme Court ruling last year that the right of same-sex couples to marry is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, no one on the Coast has been denied a marriage license based on sexual orientation, circuit clerks in the three Coast counties said.
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"I took an oath to follow the law and I'll follow the law," said Harrison County Circuit Clerk Connie Ladner, who added neither she nor anyone in her office has objected to issuing licenses to same sex-couples.
She said 140 such licenses, 100 in Gulfport and 40 in Biloxi, have been issued since the decision in Obergefell v Hodges in June. Ladner is in her first term as circuit clerk, but served as a deputy clerk for years before that.
Jackson County Clerk Randy Carney, also in his first term, said if the bill becomes law it won't make any difference in his office, even though he has some reservations about same-sex marriage. He said about 20 same-sex couples have been issued licenses since the ruling.
"We're going to follow the law," he said. "I don't think anybody has objected."
Hancock County Circuit Clerk Karen Ruhr said she didn't want to comment on the bill, but no one in her office has objected either.
She said about 15 licenses have been issued to same-sex couples.