A federal court has shot down a Mississippi law that allows individual clerks and government officials to ‘opt out’ of recognising same-sex weddings.
In June 2015 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Obergefell v Hodges that marrying a same-sex partner is a constitutionally protected right.
In response to the ruling, a string of states have attempted to pass ‘religious freedom’ laws giving officials the right to block gay weddings.
One such law, Mississippi’s HB 1523, had given individual government clerks and official the power to recuse themselves from processing gay wedding documents.
The law, which was set to come into effect next month states: “Any person employed or acting on behalf of the state government who has authority to authorize or license marriages, including, but not limited to, clerks, registers of deeds or their deputies, may seek recusal from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
However, US District Court Judge Carlton Reeves issued an injunction to block the provision indefinitely, nearly exactly a year on from the Supreme Court ruling.
Amid a wider legal challenge, the judge ruled that the law “significantly changes the landscape of Mississippi’s marriage licensing laws” and “amends Mississippi’s marriage licensing regime in such a way as to conflict with Obergefell”.
He noted that in 2015 his court had addressed “whether the Fourteenth Amendment permitted a State to treat same-sex couples differently than opposite-sex couples with respect to the issuance and recognition of marriage licenses”.
He added: “Today’s motion concerns the same issue. In [HB 1523], 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.”
In a barb aimed at state legislators, he said: “Mississippi’s elected officials 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.”