May 09, 2016
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi on Monday filed a lawsuit challenging Mississippi's anti-LGBTQ legislation that the groups say allows businesses to discriminate against gay and transgender people.
The claim targets the state's Health Statistics and Vital Records department and was filed on behalf of an engaged couple that faces discrimination because the bill, HB 1523, states that businesses may deny services to LBGTQ clients based on their religious beliefs. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against the law, which is set to go into effect in July.
"When HB 1523 passed, it was heartbreaking because it takes away our chance to finally be treated equally," said the plaintiffs, Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, who have been engaged for nearly two years. "This law permits discrimination against us simply because of who we are. This is not the Mississippi we're proud to call home."
Alford and Thomas called HB 1523 "a slap in the face."
Same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S. following a 2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU said Monday that HB 1523 violates that decision by treating those unions as being different than others.
"We're stepping up to fight this sweeping anti-LBGT and unconstitutional law that authorizes discrimination against gay and transgender people," said ACLU staff attorney Josh Block. "HB 1523 has no rightful place in Mississippi or in our history books and we're hopeful this lawsuit can stop as much of it as possible before it goes into effect. We won't rest until every last piece of this law is struck down and all LGBT people in Mississippi have equal justice under the law."
Former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz is a co-counsel in the case, fighting on the side of the ACLU. He told the Clarion-Ledger that he was offended Mississippi would codify discrimination into law.
"We have a civil rights struggle again," Diaz said. "We hope people will stand up and say we aren't going to allow discrimination."
The bill was signed into law last month by Governor Phil Bryant. The ACLU noted at the time that its passage gave Mississippi the "dubious distinction of being the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBTQ community do not matter."
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