Faith-Based Business Owners Won't Be Forced to Serve Gay Weddings, Mississippi Appeals Court Rules

(Photo: Reuters/Mike Blake)Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant arrives to attend B.B. King's funeral in Indianola, Mississippi, May 30, 2015.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a Mississippi law that protects people who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds from being sued.

In a unanimous decision issued Thursday, the panel concluded that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue the state over House Bill 1523, also called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, reversing a lower court's decision.

"The governor of Mississippi and the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services appeal a preliminary injunction. Because the plaintiffs do not have standing, we reverse the injunction and render a judgment of dismissal," wrote Circuit Judge Jerry Smith on behalf of the panel.

In April 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law, which prohibits the state from compelling businesses and individuals from supporting or servicing gay weddings.

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(Photo: Reuters/David McNew)A same-sex wedding cake topper is seen outside the East Los Angeles County Recorder's Office on Valentine's Day during a news event for National Freedom to Marry Week in Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 14, 2012.

"The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth," reads HB 1523 in part.

LGBT groups and their allies denounced the legislation and sued to have it struck down. For his part, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order last year banning non-essential state travel to Mississippi.

"[I]t is the policy of the state of New York to promote fairness, protect the welfare of the citizens of the state of New York, and combat discrimination," read Cuomo's 2016 order.

"All agencies, departments, boards, authorities and commissions [will] review all requests for state funded or state sponsored travel to the state of Mississippi so long as there is law in effect there that permits and enshrines discrimination against LGBT citizens and unmarried individuals ..." Cuomo's order added.

Last summer, Judge Carlton W. Reeves blocked Mississippi's law from taking effect, concluding that it was "a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement Thursday that he commended the panel's ruling on the "commonsense law."

"No person should be punished by the government with crippling fines or face disqualification for simply believing what President Obama believed until five years ago, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman," said Perkins.

"Today's ruling leaves us more confident that the courts will uphold the ability of elected officials to protect the freedom of their citizens to believe and live according to those beliefs"

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