Friday, October 7, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Blocks Mississippi Gay Marriage Recusals

(CN) — Mississippi clerks cannot cite their own religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The ruling stems from a state law signed in April by Gov. Phil Bryant that takes aim at the U.S. Supreme Court's milestone 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage.

The law would have taken effect Friday and in part allowed county clerks to disqualify themselves from handing marriage licenses to gay couples based on their religion.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said that portion of the state's so-called "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," violates the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling.

"The Supreme Court's ruling will be enforced," Reeves wrote in Monday's ruling.

"Mississippi's elected official may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit — by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example. But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session," the ruling says.

"And the judiciary will remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly."

Mississippi was already been blocked from enforcing its ban on gay marriage but the order expands the so-called "recusal" provision of HB 1523.

"Clerks and their deputies are, after all, 'public officials elected and paid by the county to serve the public and all of its citizens,'" Reeves wrote.

Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said the group is pleased with Monday's order.

"A year after the Supreme Court guaranteed marriage equality in the Obergefell decision, we are delighted that Judge Reeves reaffirmed the power of federal courts to definitively say what the United States Constitution means," Kaplan said.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.