Mississippi’s Anti-LGBT Law Reaches Fifth Circuit: Lambda Legal Joins Legal Advocates Filing Opening Briefs

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December 16, 2016

Today legal advocates, now joined by Lambda Legal, are filing papers in Barber v. Bryant, the federal challenge brought by Mississippi civil rights attorney Robert McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice to HB 1523, Mississippi’s discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation that was enacted in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision granting marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.

In June, a federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing HB 1523 from taking effect. That ruling is now on appeal before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—it is LGBT discrimination disguised as religious freedom,” said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal. “The law sets an array of traps for LGBT people, from allowing government employees to refuse to serve them, to leaving LGBT youth in foster care unprotected from dangerous condemnation by the adults who are supposed to help them.

“You would think, after the severe backlash experienced by states like Indiana and North Carolina—where we are also litigating—that legislators and governors would know better. Discriminatory laws targeting the LGBT community don’t pay.” Sommer added. “We are proud to join this terrific legal team and plaintiffs who successfully blocked implementation of this law in the continuing fight against this appeal and all efforts to force LGBT Mississippians back into the closet.”

HB 1523 would allow government officials and private businesses, individuals, and medical and social service agencies to discriminate against Mississippians based on religious and so-called “moral” objections to the existence of transgender people, marriages of same-sex couples and non-marital sexual relationships.

“Because this law endorses discrimination in the name of religion, it violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government endorsement of religious beliefs and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equality before the law,” McDuff said. “We hope and believe that the appeals court will uphold the injunction we won in the federal district court. The plaintiffs in our case represent the many thousands of Mississippians who oppose this misguided law.

“We are pleased to have Lambda Legal join this case. Their long history litigating on behalf of LGBT individuals and couples around the nation – as well as their engagement fighting similar discriminatory laws in Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina and elsewhere – adds additional support to our challenge,” McDuff added.

The 11 individuals and church that are plaintiffs in Barber v. Bryant comprise a broad cross-section of Mississippians harmed by HB 1523 – leaders of faith congregations in the state, LGBT residents, and others impacted by the discriminatory law in their professional and personal lives. The lawsuit claims HB 1523 violates the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

“HB 1523 violates a fundamental American value and strikes at the very heart of our work towards a fairer and more just state,” said Beth L. Orlansky, Advocacy Director, MS Center for Justice. “This law is discriminatory, and we must do everything we can to prevent its implementation.”

In June, advocates filed two lawsuits arguing HB 1523 violated the U.S. Constitution.

Barber v. Bryant, brought by McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice on behalf of 11 individual plaintiffs and the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church, and Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) v. Bryant, brought by attorney Roberta Kaplan on behalf of CSE and one individual plaintiff. The two cases were consolidated for the preliminary injunction proceedings before U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves.

The plaintiffs in Barber are: Rev. Dr. Rims Barber, ordained minister, Presbyterian Church; Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, pastor, and Susan Mangum, director of worship, Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church, as well as the Church itself; Rev. Don Fortenberry, ordained minister, United Methodist Church and retired chaplain of Millsaps College; Rev. Carol Burnett, ordained minister, United Methodist Church; Anthony Laine Boyette; Dr. Susan Glisson; Renick Taylor; Joan Bailey; Derrick Johnson, Executive Director of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP; and Dorothy Triplett.

The brief to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will be available here after filing.

Read the press release.