PINE BELT (WDAM) - A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Mississippi may be able to start enforcing a law that will let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.
Governor Phil Bryant said HB1523 was designed to protect three specific religious beliefs: marriage is between a man and woman, no sex outside of such marriage and a person's gender is determined at birth.
Thursday's decision has some LGBT advocates in the Pine Belt frustrated over what they call discrimination.
"Personally, I was devastated, the other members of the Spectrum Center Executive Board were likewise, very disheartened by the ruling."
"As a people, it feels like Mississippi is not really being the hospitality state to us," said Vine. "When I go out to a business, I expect to receive good service. That's what a free market society is all about. Mississippi seems to be telling me and other LGBT people that's not necessarily the case, your mileage may vary."
Joshua Generation MCC Pastor Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, a plaintiff on the brief, along with the congregation, said she is disappointed in the court's decision.
"Our congregation has faced hatred, injustice and bigotry simply because someone decided their religious beliefs trump ours. We were forced to implement stricter security protocols in the wake of the initial passage of this bill and can only imagine those protocols will become even more stringent due to this decision," said Mangum-Dear. "This bill protects ignorance and bigotry while we must protect ourselves from those who will be empowered by it."
Mangum-Dear said when the bill initially passed in July of 2016, there were threats outside the church.
"We had to put guards in front of our church after the bill initially passed because there was a truck with a swastika parked across the street and just this week the Christian Knights of the KKK distributed fliers throughout the Hattiesburg area," said Magnum-Dear. "Today's ruling leaves us more exposed, so we will have to be more vigilant than ever before to protect our church, our families and our dignity."
Mississippi leaders also made statements in response to the ruling Thursday:
"I am pleased the Fifth Circuit has ruled to dismiss the case and allow House Bill 1523 to become law. 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."
- Governor Phil Bryant, (R)
"House Bill 1523 simply protected Mississippians from government interference when practicing their deeply held religious beliefs, and I appreciate the Fifth Circuit clearing the path for this law to take effect."
- Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves
"Today I feel like the Fifth Circuit panel issued an opinion that is a victory for the first amendment and religious freedom in Mississippi. This law was never intended to discriminate against anybody, but what we are trying to do is making sure we protect individuals that are practicing, making sure they can't be forced to participate in a religious-related activity that violates their faith. I think the bill was narrowly-tailored to do that and I think the Fifth Circuit panel recognized that. I do expect the full panel will take up the issue on the Fifth Circuit and I am confident they will likewise rule the ACLU doesn't have any standing to pursue this claim, nor can they prove any injury which is a requirement to pursue these challenges."
- Representative Brad Touchstone, (R) District 101 - Lamar
According to the Campaign for Southern Equality, plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant III will immediately appeal this ruling, seeking review by the full 5th Circuit. The groups said the three-judge panel did not rule on the merits of the law itself. The opinion reverses Judge Reeves's lower court decision granting a preliminary injunction. However the preliminary injunction will not be lifted - and HB 1523 will not go into effect - until the formal mandate of the Court of Appeals issues on or around July 13.
According to 2016 data by the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, Mississippi is home to 60,000 LGBT adults and an estimated 11,400 transgender youth and adults. The state is also home to 3,500 same-sex couples, 29 percent of whom are raising children—the highest rate in the nation.