New York-based attorney Robbie Kaplan of the Campaign for Southern Equality, who garnered acclaim as the lead lawyer in the historic U.S. v. Windsor case that toppled DOMA, on Tuesday announced her intention to challenge Mississippi's passage of the anti-LGBT House Bill 1523. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) wrote that, “The law allows almost any individual or organization to use religion as a justification to discriminate against LGBT Mississippians in some of the most important aspects of their lives, including at work, at school, and in their communities, additionally permitting clerks who cite ‘religious beliefs’ to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In a letter to Gov. Phil Bryant and other state officials, Kaplan requested notices for any clerks who plan to recuse themselves, a complete explanation of steps clerks will take to ensure no delay for same-sex couples seeking to marry, and asks whether clerks who refuse same-sex couples will continue to serve opposite-sex couples.”
In her letter, Kaplan pointed out that in 2015, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a permanent injunction barring the state from treating same-sex couples differently than their straight counterparts.
"Given the mandatory and permanent nature of Judge Reeves' injunction, we have serious concerns about compliance with the July 2015 injunction in light of the recent enactment of HB 1523," Kaplan said in her letter. "Among other things, HB 1523 purports to enable 'any person employed or acting on behalf of the state government who has authority to authorize or license marriages'—persons who are already subject to the court's July 2015 injunction—to recuse themselves if, based on certain specifically identified 'sincerely held religious beliefs,' they wish to refuse to license marriages for gay and lesbian Mississippians.”
She went on to note, "HB 1523 further provides that any such person who recuses herself in this manner must ensure that doing so will not 'impede or delay' the licensing of any marriage," Kaplan said. "Significantly, however, HB 1523 is absolutely silent as to how the right of all Mississippians who seek to legally marry, including gay men and lesbians, will be protected under this new 'recusal' system."
According to The Clarion Ledger, “in order to ensure that compliance is met, Kaplan requested Bryant provide:
· Any notice for any individual who has filed recusal notices pursuant to HB 1523;
· A full and complete explanation of all steps that each individual seeking recusal (or any person acting on behalf of that individual, including in a supervisory capacity) will take to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are not impeded or delayed when seeking to marry in the relevant county;
· Whether the individual seeking recusal intends to continue issuing marriage licenses to straight couples.”
Gov. Bryant has thus far refused to issue a comment on Kaplan’s letter or plans.