Marriage Equality Could Be Headed Back To The Supreme Court

Advocates are asking the high court to strike down a new Mississippi law allowing businesses to turn away married gay couples.

A controversial Mississippi law that went into effect on Friday allows businesses to refuse services to married gay couples. Now LGBT advocates are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling and declare HB 1523 unconstitutional.

Considered the most sweeping anti-LGBT law in the U.S., the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act allows doctors, lawyers, teachers and others to turn people away based on religious beliefs about marriage and gender.

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It was signed by Republican Governor Phil Bryant in 2016 but was put on hold by a series of court challenges. But after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear a suit last week, it was back on track. Now Lambda Legal and the Mississippi Center for Justice are asking the Supreme Court to reverse the verdict.

HB 1523 “creates a toxic environment of fear and prejudice,” said Lambda Legal’s Susan Sommer in a statement. “Along with other anti-LGBT laws across the country like those in North Carolina and Texas, these laws are a pack of wolves in sheep’s clothing, dressing up discrimination and calling it religious freedom.”

Governor Bryant defends the law, insisting, “the people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

But Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood disagrees.

“All HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill and the need to solve our state’s financial mess,” he said last summer. “I don’t believe that’s the way to carry out Jesus’ primary directives to protect the least among us and to love thy neighbor.”

If taken up, the case will be the second involving LGBT rights before the high court this term: A suit involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple is already on the docket.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.