Attorney: State needs plan to protect gay marriage

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Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who has won several landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage, is asking Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood how a new state law will protect the rights of same-sex couples seeking to wed in Mississippi.

On April 5, Bryant signed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” which takes effect July 1.

The law allows government workers and private business owners to cite religious beliefs in refusing service to individuals, including same-sex individuals wanting to marry, transgender individuals and couples believed to be having sex outside of marriage.

“This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws,” Bryant said in a statement after signing the bill. “It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances.”

In a letter dated April 25, Kaplan, who represented plaintiffs in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit that legalized gay marriage, asked state officials for a plan on how to ensure individuals’ constitutionally protected rights if clerks recuse themselves from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“HB 1523 is absolutely silent as to how the right of all Mississippians who seek to legally marry, including gay men and lesbians, will be protected under this new ‘recusal’ system,” Kaplan writes.

Rachael Ring, a spokeswoman for Hood’s office, said the office had received the letter and will respond to it at the appropriate time.

Kaplan gave the state until May 2 to present their plan so that her clients, the Campaign for Southern Equality, “can be in a position to evaluate whether we will need to seek further relief from the Court.”