Businesses in Mississippi are free to refuse service to gay and transgender people on religious grounds — for now.
The U.S. Supreme Court left the state’s controversial religious freedom law in place Monday by denying two appeals from state residents and LGBTQ rights groups. The decision could mean a similar outcome is in store for the highly-anticipated gay wedding cake case from Colorado.
Mississippi’s religious freedom law, passed in 2016, is part of the state’s pushback against the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage the year before. The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” allows businesses to refuse people service because of religious and moral convictions.
“In the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, many Mississippians, including pastors, wanted protection to exercise their religious liberties,” Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves said about the law in 2016. “This bill simply protects those individuals from government interference when practicing their religious beliefs.”
Mississippi is one of 28 states that does not have a law prohibiting businesses from discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation.
Gay and transgender Mississippians and advocates sued the state saying the new law violated their civil rights. In 2017 a federal appeals court dismissed the case saying plaintiffs did not demonstrate sufficient injury from the law, but left the door open for future lawsuits.
“We do not foreclose the possibility that a future plaintiff may be able to show clear injury-in-fact…” the Fifth Circuit opinion said. “But the federal courts must withhold judgment unless and until that plaintiff comes forward.”
The Supreme Court agreed Monday by declining to take up the case, signaling the court may be poised to prioritize religious rights in the Colorado wedding cake case as well.
Colorado, unlike Mississippi, is one of 22 states that forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation. When a baker there refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012, the state intervened and said the baker must make wedding cakes for everyone. A decision about whether Colorado can force the baker to make a wedding cake for a ceremony he morally objects to is expected from the U.S. Supreme Court before June.