Today a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs challenging Mississippi’s anti-LGBT legislation, HB 1523, haven’t been personally harmed by the law, and therefore don’t have standing to sue. Plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant III will appeal this ruling, seeking review by the full 5th Circuit.
The three-judge panel did not rule on the merits of the law itself. The opinion reverses Judge Reeves’s lower court decision granting a preliminary injunction. However the preliminary injunction will not be lifted – and HB 1523 will not go into effect – until the formal mandate of the Court of Appeals issues. If the 5th Circuit agrees to take this case en banc, the preliminary injunction will remain in effect until the court rules.
“This decision is not only deeply upsetting for the rights of LGBT individuals living in Mississippi, but also for the protection of religious liberty in our country. Our clients have already suffered enough. The state communicated a message loudly and clearly with the passage of HB 1523: only certain anti-LGBT beliefs will get the protection and endorsement of the state. Under the logic of this opinion, it would be constitutional for the state of Mississippi to pass a law establishing Southern Baptist as the official state religion. We plan to seek an en banc review of the decision by the 5th Circuit” says Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, one of two cases challenging HB1523.
“HB 1523 is a reckless law designed with only one purpose – to discriminate against LGBT people in Mississippi. We will continue to fight this law in federal courts and to stand with the LGBT community across Mississippi,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Passed by the Mississippi Legislature and signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant last spring, HB 1523 would enable Mississippi officials and service providers, such as doctors or store owners, to recuse themselves from serving LGBT individuals on the basis of three specific religious beliefs about gay marriage, transgender individuals, and sex before marriage. Plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant (CSE III) argued that HB 1523, by protecting three specific religious beliefs above all others, is unprecedented and violates the First Amendment’s guarantee that government cannot endorse, or establish, religion.
HB 1523 would allow public employees, service providers, and business owners in Mississippi to deny treatment, services, and goods to LGBT individuals on the basis of three specific religious beliefs: (1) that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; (2) that sexual intercourse is properly reserved to such a marriage; and (3) that sex is an immutable characteristic that is assigned at birth and cannot change. Thus, a restaurant manager in Jackson, Mississippi who chooses not to “recognize” the marriage of Rev. Hrostowski and her wife would have been empowered under HB 1523 to refuse to seat them together at a table for two on their anniversary, despite the existence of an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. HB 1523 also prohibits the state from intervening to protect the best interests of gay or transgender children in the care of adults who may hold one or more of these religious beliefs. And HB 1523 not only allows private citizens to refuse to provide counseling and psychological treatment on the basis of the three specific religious beliefs in clear violation of professional ethical guidelines—it also permits state employees, including public school guidance counselors, to turn away students desperately in need of support.
Mississippi is home to 60,000 LGBT adults and an estimated 11,400 transgender youth and adults, according to 2016 data published by the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law. The state is also home to 3,500 same-sex couples, 29 percent of whom are raising children—the highest rate in the nation.