Mississippi law allowing denial of services to LGBT people is blocked by US judge

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Judge blocks part of Mississippi LGBT marriage law

July 1 (Reuters) - A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law intended to allow people who object on religious grounds to same-sex marriage and believe gender is determined at birth to refuse wedding and other services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves found late Thursday that the wide-ranging law adopted this spring unconstitutionally allowed "arbitrary discrimination" against the LGBT community, unmarried people and others who do not share such views.

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"The state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others," wrote Reeves, who issued an injunction halting the law that was to take effect on Friday.

Mississippi is among a handful of southern U.S. states on the front lines of legal battles over equality, privacy and religious freedom after the U.S. Supreme Court last year legalized same-sex marriage.

RELATED: See photos from when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015

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Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Marriage, Marriage Equality
People celebrate during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Ikeita Cantu, left, and her wife Carmen Guzman, of McLean, Va., hold up signs as they celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. The couple was married in Canada in 2009 when gay marriage was illegal in Virginia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A couple kiss to celebrate the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that legalized same sex marriage nationwide, is backed by supporters of the courts ruling on same-sex marriage on the step of the Texas Capitol during a rally Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Marriage equality supporters rally on the steps of the Supreme Court as they wait for a decision Friday, June 26, 2015, in Washington. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
People celebrates during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Two women celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People run under a giant equality flag as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters from the Human Rights Campaign celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd celebrates outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama walks toward the podium before speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, after the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Activists hold signs regarding same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
From left, Annie Katz of the University of Michigan, Zaria Cummings of Michigan State University, Spencer Perry of Berkeley, Calif., and Justin Maffett of Dartmouth University, celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd reacts as the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Same-sex marriage supporters hold rainbow flags outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People wave a giant equality flag in celebration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Ariel Olah of Detroit, left, and her fiancee Katie Boatman, are overcome by emotion outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, as the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced. The court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A man holds a rainbow flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Carmelita Cabello, left, and her partner of 31 year, Jaque Roberts, right, arrive at the Travis County building for a marriage license after hearing the Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Lupe Garcia, left, hugs her partner Cindy Stocking, right, at the Travis County building after hearing the Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay couples nationwide have the right to marry in a 5-4 decision. How incredible it is to be here as they announced it!
It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality . . . Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. #fbf #equality #lovemustwin #freedomtomarry
People are FREAKING OUT at the Stonewall Inn! Tears, hugs, laughter. http://t.co/bC1RUfEDzk
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Participants celebrate at the San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in San Francisco, Calif., two days after the Supreme Court's landmark decision to require that states issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. (Adm Golub/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
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The state's "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" sought to shield those believing that marriage involves a man and a woman, and sexual relations should occur within such marriages. It also protected the belief that gender is defined by sex at birth.

By citing those three religious grounds, the law would have allowed people to refuse to provide a wide range of services from baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple to counseling and fertility services. It also permitted dress code and bathroom restrictions to be imposed on transgender people.

Reeves said the law violated the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection under the law by granting special rights to citizens holding certain religious beliefs.

The law "favors Southern Baptist over Unitarian doctrine, Catholic over Episcopalian doctrine, and Orthodox Judaism over Reform Judaism doctrine," he said.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the measure into law in April. The state has defended it as a reasonable accommodation intended to protect businesses and individuals seeking to exercise their religious views.

"I look forward to an aggressive appeal," the governor said in a statement on Friday.

Critics say the Mississippi law is so broad that it could apply to nearly anyone in a sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage, including single mothers. Several legal challenges were filed against various aspects of the law.

Earlier this week, Reeves addressed a provision allowing clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples based on religious beliefs, saying they had to fulfill their duties under the Supreme Court ruling.

His ruling on Thursday came after religious leaders, including an Episcopal priest and a Jewish rabbi, last week testified in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that the law did not reflect their religious views. The judge also heard about its harmful potential from members of the gay community.

"As a member of the LGBT community and as minister of the Gospel, I am thankful that justice prevailed," said plaintiff Susan Hrostowski, an Episcopal priest. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien, Letitia Stein and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)

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