HB1523 is the little engine that could. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the Plaintiffs in the underlying matter did not have standing to pursue their case. The Court basically said those complaining had not been harmed.
A brief reminder, HB1523 was aimed to prevent “government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs …in matters of marriage.” Phil Bryant. The Governor said it would not allow the discrimination of anyone.
The debate essentially centers around two “competing” interests. Those in favor of the law – contend a small business owner, hardworking, toiling and of strong Christian conviction should not lose their business and livelihood due to getting sued for not baking a cake for a gay wedding. Those opposed to the law – state that this law affords no protections to a class in need of protection.
Interestingly, prior to this law, during its litigation and even to date, there has not been a reported instance of a small business in the State of Mississippi being sued or facing any consequences for refusing service to same-sex persons prior to this law. The Oregon case where a baker had a money judgment entered against him was due to the admitted violation of an Oregon State law and aggravating factors, including that the baker published the Complaintant’s name, home address and personal phone number on FaceBook. The money damages were for violating Oregon State law and the emotional distress that accompanied the intended private complaint being publicly posted.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from making a law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This provision applies to state and local governments through the Fourteenth Amendment.
The problem I see is that this law demands the respecting of an establishment of religion. It specifically allows state employees to discriminate against other citizens based upon a “sincerely held religious belief” or “moral conviction.” This means that the State employee whose job is to issue marriage licenses can refuse because they do not approve of you and/or your soon-to-be spouse.
The intent was to prevent same-sex marriage, but it could also prevent persons who were previously divorced from being married, persons pregnant out-of-wedlock who seek to be married, those that have had a child out of wedlock, and those having sex out of wedlock from getting married. These facts, by the way, are not an interpretation. The law provides for protection of these beliefs.
However, the plaintiffs complaining could not show that they had actually been harmed or discriminated against because of the law. Due to this, the 5th Circuit determined that they did not have the right to sue the State as they could show no harm. Case dismissed.
So, what’s next? This ruling will be appealed to the full panel before the 5th Circuit and in the meantime additional suits will be filed with aggrieved plaintiffs, I predict. However, is a law really a law if it doesn’t matter? Maybe all who seek will get their marriage licenses and all who desire a cake will get their cake and eat it too. Maybe Mississippi is better than our politicians deserve.
Matthew Thompson is a Divorce Attorney encouraging you to believe in your beliefs, but follow the law.