Today We Were in Court at the 5th Circuit Fighting Mississippi's Anti-LGBT Law

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April 3, 2017
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Rev. Dr. Rims Barber

Mississippi civil rights attorney Rob McDuff, along with Mississippi Center for Justice and Lambda Legal, today argued before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that it should leave in place a federal district court injunction against House Bill 1523, Mississippi’s discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation.

The law was enacted last April, in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision granting marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. Last June, federal district court judge Carlton Reeves of Jackson issued a preliminary injunction preventing HB 1523 from taking effect.

HB 1523 sets forth a wide-ranging list of discriminatory actions that government officials and private businesses, individuals and some types of medical and social service providers can take against Mississippians based on religious and so-called “moral” objections to the existence of transgender people, marriages of same-sex couples and non-marital sexual relationships.

Under the law, businesses have the right to turn away same-sex couples for wedding services, the state cannot stop foster care providers from condemning and harming LGBT foster children in their care and some types of health care providers can deny services to LGBT and unmarried people without consequence from the state or any its departments.

In June, advocates filed two lawsuits arguing HB 1523 violated the U.S. Constitution – Barber v. Bryant, brought by McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice on behalf of 12 individual plaintiffs and the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church, and Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) v. Bryant, brought by attorney Roberta Kaplan on behalf of CSE and one individual plaintiff.

The two cases were consolidated for the preliminary injunction proceedings before U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves, who agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument and blocked HB 1523 from taking effect. That ruling is now on appeal before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lambda Legal has joined as co-counsel for the Barber plaintiffs on appeal.

The 12 individuals and the church that are plaintiffs in Barber v. Bryant comprise a broad cross-section of Mississippians opposed to HB 1523 –ministers, LGBT residents, community leaders and activists. The lawsuit argues that HB 1523 violates the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

"One of the most aggressive and sweeping anti-LGBT measures in the nation, HB1523 doesn’t even try to mask its explicit attempt to legalize LGBT discrimination and segregation."
—  Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal

“One of the most aggressive and sweeping anti-LGBT measures in the nation, HB1523 doesn’t even try to mask its explicit attempt to legalize LGBT discrimination and segregation. It is an attack on same-sex couples and transgender people, made in the name of religious and ‘moral’ beliefs,” said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal.

“Our clients have already seen heightened discrimination and harassment fueled by passage of HB 1523. This law should not be allowed to take effect and expose already vulnerable LGBT people in the state to yet more abuse. We are hopeful the Court will see this law for what it is—a green light for discrimination—and continue to block HB 1523 from taking effect," Sommer added.

“This law gives special rights to adherents of one set of religious beliefs above others, allowing them to discriminate unfairly without any consequences from the state. That’s unfair and unconstitutional. By promoting discrimination in the name of religion, HB 1523 violates both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments,” said Mississippi civil rights attorney Rob McDuff.

“Our plaintiffs come from across the state representing a broad swath of the many thousands of Mississippians who oppose HB 1523,” said Beth Orlansky of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “People of different faiths, races, sexual orientations, ages, gender identities and marital statuses are standing together demanding to be treated just like everyone else.”

“As a Christian minister, I respect all faiths, but religion should never be distorted as a tool to hurt others,” said Rims Barber, the named plaintiff in Barber v. Bryant, and the minister who in 1970 married the first interracial couple in Mississippi since Reconstruction. “This isn’t the first time Mississippi has tried to ignore U. S. Supreme Court decisions. Three years after Loving v. Virginia, the couple I married had to fight in federal court before the state would allow them to marry. Mississippi wasn’t allowed to stand in the way of equal treatment then, and it shouldn’t be allowed to do the same today through HB 1523.”

Learn more about the plaintiffs in the case.