By: Paul Goldberg, Staff Writer

JACKSON, MS — The same-sex marriage legal battle continues over a Mississippi law that allows merchants and government officials use their religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples. Attorneys filed a brief Thursday asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block this outrageous law.

Legal experts say it’s the broadest religious-objections law enacted by any state since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. The law pushed and signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in 2016 protects the following three beliefs:

1. Marriage is only between a man and a woman
2. Sex should only take place in such a marriage
3. A person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.

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Attorneys for a dozen gay and straight plaintiffs who sued the state over this law said in court papers Thursday that they are ostracized by the law, which started as House Bill 1523. “HB 1523 is offensive to the rights of LGBT and other dissenting Mississippians and to the Supreme Court’s command on this burning civil rights issue,” they wrote.

The law 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 LGBT people. It could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies.

Back in July 2016, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves blocked the law from taking effect, ruling it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

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An appeals court panel lifted the hold on the law June 22, saying people who sued the state had failed to show they would be harmed. Plaintiffs want the whole appeals court to reverse that decision.

The panel did not rule on whether the law violates the constitutional prohibition on government establishing favored religious views. The panel said plaintiffs failed to prove they would be harmed by the law, “but the federal courts must withhold judgment unless and until that plaintiff comes forward.”

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