1 US judge to hear 3 lawsuits over Mississippi LGBT law


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - One judge will hear all three challenges to a Mississippi law that will let clerks cite religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Each lawsuit originally had been assigned to a different federal judge. Two have been shifted to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who already had one.

In reassigning cases Friday, Chief District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. cited an overall equal distribution of the workload among judges.

Reeves overturned Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage in 2014 but put his ruling on hold while the state appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in an Ohio case last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Mississippi's House Bill 1523, set to become law July 1, was one of several measures filed by state lawmakers around the nation in response to the Supreme Court decision.

Supporters say the Mississippi law will protect people's religious belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, while opponents say it violates the equal-protection guarantee of the Constitution. All three lawsuits seek to have the bill declared unconstitutional and to block it from becoming law.

The bill signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant provides protection for people with three religious beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sexual relations should only take place inside such a marriage and that a person's "immutable biological sex" is determined by anatomy and genetics at birth. In addition to marriage licenses, the measure could affect adoptions, business practices and school bathroom policies.

On May 9, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of a gay couple from Meridian. The case originally was assigned to U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan.

On May 10, Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples filed papers seeking to challenge the new law by asking Reeves to reopen their 2014 federal lawsuit in which he overturned Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage.

On June 3, the Mississippi Center for Justice filed suit for a diverse group of gay, straight and transgender people saying the law violates the separation of church and state by favoring "certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations and condemn transgender people." The case originally was assigned to U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee.

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