Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Court Moves To Invalidate Mississippi's Law For Recusal By County Clerks Who Object To Same-Sex Marriage

In a decision issued yesterday, a Mississippi federal district court took the first step toward issuing an injunction that would have the effect of preventing county clerks in Mississippi from relying on the provisions in Mississippi HB 1523 that allow them to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage. (See prior posting.)  The decision came in an attempt to reopen and expand the injunction issued by the federal district court in 2015 baring enforcement of Mississippi's statutory and constitutional provisions barring same-sex marriage.

In Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, (SD MS, June 27, 2016), the court explained:
The constitutional violation this case addressed in 2014 and 2015 was whether the Fourteenth Amendment permitted a State to treat same-sex couples differently than opposite-sex couples with respect to the issuance and recognition of marriage licenses.
Today’s motion concerns the same issue. In HB 1523 § 3(8)(a), the State is permitting the differential treatment to be carried out by individual clerks.***
Section 3(8)(a) is a significant change sufficient to reopen this case and reconsider the language of the Permanent Injunction....  The undersigned, though, is not persuaded that the 81 non-party Circuit Clerks are presently bound by the Permanent Injunction.... [T]he better course of action is to ensure that the remaining 81 Circuit Clerks have received actual notice of a Permanent Injunction that binds them before they are held accountable for it. The parties shall confer on an appropriate procedure for providing that notice....
No one has argued that the Permanent Injunction is invalid, but the briefing now suggests that it lacks all necessary parties. Judicial economy may be served by an Amended Permanent Injunction which enjoins § 263A of the Mississippi Constitution and Mississippi Code § 93-1-1(2), incorporates appropriate language from Rule 65, and clarifies that the persons it binds must issue marriage licenses “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.” Obergefell, 135 S. Ct. at 2605....
The point of adding Obergefell’s language is simple: the Supreme Court’s ruling will be enforced. Obergefell “is the law of the land and, consequently, the law of this circuit.” 791 F.3d at 627. Mississippi’s elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit – by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example. But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session. And the judiciary will remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly.
BuzzFeed reports on the decision.