By Jon Herskovitz
(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday lifted an injunction that blocked a Mississippi law allowing businesses and government employees to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by citing religious beliefs.
Opponents said they would likely seek to overturn the decision, arguing that the measure allowed for sweeping discrimination against the LGBT community.
A three-judge panel at the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling that blocked the 2016 law, known as House Bill 1523 and backed by Christian groups, from taking effect.
The panel said the plaintiffs, who included ordained ministers who have married same-sex couples and same-sex couples seeking to marry, did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.
"None of these plaintiffs has clearly shown an injury-in-fact," said the panel, which did not rule on the merits of the law.
The Mississippi measure was one of a series of bills proposed in socially conservative, Republican-dominated states that critics saw as an attempt to erode the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide.
"This law is among the very worst in the nation," said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights legal aid group, in a telephone interview.
Sommer, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they would likely seek further judicial review, either before the full Fifth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.
A federal judge blocked the Mississippi law in July 2016, saying it unconstitutionally allowed "arbitrary discrimination" against the LGBT community and unmarried people.
The law cleared the way for employers to cite religion in determining workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom and locker access.
Under the measure, religious organizations would be protected when they make decisions regarding employment, housing, the placement of children in foster or adoptive homes, or the solemnization of a marriage based on their beliefs, the appeals court wrote.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican who signed HB 1523 into law in April 2016, applauded Thursday's ruling. The state has defended the measure as a reasonable accommodation intended to protect businesses and individuals seeking to exercise their religious views.
"As I have said all along, the legislation is not meant to discriminate against anyone, but simply prevents government interference with the constitutional right to exercise sincerely held religious beliefs," Bryant said in a statement.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang)