Here’s the Lawsuit Against a State Anti-LGBT Law You Aren’t Hearing About
North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law HB2 isn’t the only state law receiving new scrutiny this week. The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s HB 1523, which offers a sweeping menu of legalized discrimination.
Discrimination against LGBT people was already legal under state law before HB 1523 passed, but the new law went further and ensured legal protection for those who might refuse service to someone because of a belief against same-sex marriage, transgender identities, or even premarital sex. The ACLU is specifically challenging the parts of the law that allow for discrimination against same-sex couples, arguing that it’s a violation of Obergefell, the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.
In particular, HB 1523 allows Mississippi state employees who might work for a county clerk’s office to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples (a la Kentucky’s Kim Davis). The lawsuit targets Judy Moulder, the Mississippi State Registrar of Vital Records, whose job it is to collect written notices from the employees who wish to recuse themselves under the law. If same-sex couples are entitled to equal access to marriage per Obergefell, the ACLU argues, then the mere existence of a list of government employees who will exclusively refuse to service to same-sex couples “inflicts constitutional injury,” even if their recusals do not impede or delay the couples’ access to marriage licenses.
The plaintiffs in the case are Nykolas Allen and Stephen Thomas, a same-sex couple engaged to be married. The suit argues that even after receiving a marriage license, they could face stigma and discrimination at every stage of their marriage because of HB 1523’s “comprehensive legal regime”:
Whenever Plaintiffs celebrate their anniversary, for-profit businesses will have an absolute right to refuse to provide them goods and services.
If Plaintiffs seek to adopt a child out of foster care, adoption agencies have an absolute right to turn them away because they are a same-sex couple.
If Plaintiffs seek counseling or fertility services, any hospital employee from the receptionist to the obstetrician may refuse to interact with them because they are a same-sex couple.
If Plaintiffs have a child, the school guidance counselor could tell their child that his or her parents’ marriage is an abomination or refuse to provide any counseling services to their child at all.
Through these sweeping exclusions, HB 1523 subjects same-sex married couples in Mississippi to a lifetime of potentially humiliating denials of ordinary assistance and places a badge of inferiority upon their marriages each time they celebrate one of the ordinary incidents of family life.
As the couple explained when filing the suit on Monday, “This law makes us feel like second-class citizens.”
Hb1523 is wrong and we should not be treated differently. pic.twitter.com/otvRbjfFmh
HB 1523 does not take effect until July 1. The suit asks for a preliminary injunction in hopes of that simply never happening.
When signing the bill into law, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) insisted that HB 1523 “does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws.” This is despite the fact that it explicitly singles out same-sex couples and transgender people for inferior treatment. A federal court will now assess the validity of his claim.
UPDATE MAY 10, 2016 1:48 PM
Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who fought the Defense of Marriage Act and Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage, filed a second suit on Tuesday, which challenges HB 1523 on behalf of the same plaintiffs she worked with there before. This new complaint specifically asks for the injunction against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage simply be expanded to include HB 1523.