This Anti-LGBT Ruling Will Allow Discrimination Against Straight People Too

June 22nd 2017

Thor Benson

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided Thursday to dismiss a challenge to Mississippi's extreme anti-LGBTQ law, according to the Clarion-Ledger, a decision that could also affect straight people.

The law, HB 1523, allows individuals, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on their religious beliefs. It's one of many laws ostensibly aimed at protecting "religious freedom" by allowing people to discriminate against others—often gays and lesbians—for religious reasons. But the law could affect non-LGBTQ people as well: it allows for discrimination against those who engage in extramarital sex, meaning straight people who have sex before marriage could be affected.


The court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing in the case, meaning they could not prove they had been directly harmed by the law. The law was signed in April 2016 but was blocked by a federal court in July of that year, a judge ruling that it violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Former President Barack Obama also condemned the law at the time.

The district court did not rule on if the law was constitutional; it only dismissed the case based on the claims of the plaintiffs.

“We do not foreclose the possibility that a future plaintiff may be able to show clear injury-in-fact,” the judges explained, “but the federal courts must withhold judgment unless and until that plaintiff comes forward.”

Civil rights groups and others have expressed outrage over the decision and are vowing to fight back.

"We are deeply disappointed that the actions taken today by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals clear the path for the anti-LGBTQ law H.B. 1523 to take effect in Mississippi," Rob Hill, the Mississippi state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "This law—now the most discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ state law in the country—was rooted in hate, it targets the LGBTQ community, and it is a deliberate attempt to undermine marriage equality and the dignity of LGBTQ Mississippians who lawmakers have sworn to serve and protect. We will continue to fight tooth and nail against H.B. 1523 until it no longer threatens our community."

Jim Oleske, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, told ATTN: this is the most "aggressive" religious freedom law he's yet seen in the United States, pointing out that it explicitly states people like wedding vendors can refuse to serve LGBTQ people because of their religious beliefs. Other laws have been more ambiguous. He said that the constitutionality of the law may not be challenged in court until someone who is actually refused service challenges the law.

"Part of the interesting thing about today's decision is the court said [the plaintiffs] can't go forward with this case because they hadn't been impacted yet," Oleske said. Now that the law is going into effect, it looks like the impacts will be felt soon.