JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's governor has asked a judge to let a state law take effect that would let some businesses and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny or delay services to same-sex couples.
Gov. Phil Bryant filed a notice Thursday saying he'll ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower federal court's decision that blocked Mississippi's House Bill 1523 from taking effect July 1.
Bryant, a Republican, said in court papers that U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves was wrong to block the law and asked the judge to let the law take effect while the appeal is pending. If Reeves denies that request, the governor is then likely to ask the appeals court to do the same.
A lawyer who works directly for Bryant filed the motion without Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who typically handles appeals. Hood, a Democrat, expressed ambivalence again Thursday about appealing.
Roberta Kaplan, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said they "are disappointed but not surprised" by the appeal. She said Bryant's argument that her clients won't be harmed if the law takes effect during the appeal is wrong.
"It will do real, concrete harm to Mississippians every single day," she said.
In blocking the law June 30, less than an hour before it was to take effect, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that the statute's title, text and history show it is "the state's attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place" in response to last summer's Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide.
The law sought to protect three beliefs: That marriage is only between a man and a woman; that sex should only take place in such a marriage; and that a person's gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
It would allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and would protect merchants who refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. It could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies. The measure would also void protections for LGBT people in a recently passed city ordinance in Jackson, Mississippi's largest city.
"The state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others," Reeves wrote. He also wrote that it violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantee.
Bryant said Reeves was wrong. He said Mississippi has the power to favor some beliefs over others, citing federal law exempting people who oppose all war for religious reasons from the draft, and federal and state laws that exempt abortion opponents from performing some duties.
"It is perfectly acceptable for the government to choose the conscientious scruples that it will protect and accommodate, while withholding those protections and accommodations from other deeply held beliefs," Bryant's appeal states.
The governor also argues Mississippians could already arbitrarily be denied service because the state lacks anti-discrimination laws, so House Bill 1523 changed nothing.
Bryant also said Reeves erred by not allowing to stand part of the law that restates that churches and other religious groups can't be forced to go against their beliefs.
Hood said Thursday that he had not decided whether his office would be involved in Bryant's appeal. Hood said last week that he thought churchgoing people had been "duped" into supporting the bill, and on Thursday he said an appeal could be expensive. He said the state budget is already stretched.
"The millennials — they don't get this stuff, all these social battles that we have," Hood said Thursday. "They're not into all that stuff. I've got young kids and it's just not ... we're different than they are about these issues. And they wonder why we wasted time, instead of doing things that really help people."
This story has been corrected to show that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant asked U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, not the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to let the law take effect during an appeal.
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.
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