- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi cannot be allowed to create new barriers to same-sex marriage now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled gay couples have a constitutional right to wed, an attorney argues in court papers.

Roberta Kaplan, an attorney representing Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples, is trying to block an incoming state law that lets clerks cite their religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex partners. The law also says businesspeople can cite religious beliefs to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Kaplan and her clients filed a federal lawsuit in 2014 that helped overturn Mississippi’s ban on gay marriage. They filed papers May 10 asking a judge to reopen that lawsuit so they can try to prevent the religious-objections measure, House Bill 1523 , from becoming law July 1.

State attorneys argued in papers filed May 24 that the lawsuit should remain closed.

In her response Wednesday, Kaplan wrote that the new law subjects gay couples to “second-class citizenship.” She also argued that the state expects the couples to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether a circuit clerk “will stand in the way of their constitutional right to marry.”

“The state of Mississippi cannot be permitted to constantly erect new legal barriers - such as HB 1523 - to chip away at the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian Mississippians that have already been recognized by the federal courts,” Kaplan wrote.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves has not said when he will rule on reopening the lawsuit.

Mississippi was among at least 10 states where bills were filed this year in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and a gay couple from Meridian filed a separate lawsuit May 9 challenging the religious-objections law. The ACLU and state attorneys have filed arguments, but U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan has not said whether he will hold a hearing before deciding whether to block the law.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant recently received an award from the conservative Family Research Council for signing the bill this year and a similar one in 2014 called the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In his May 26 acceptance speech in Washington, Bryant said he’s resisting a social movement that tries to force people to abandon their faith.

“They would say if you are in the industry of dealing with weddings, the solemnization of marriage, that at the point of a bayonet we’re going to force you to abandon your religious beliefs, your deeply held religious beliefs, and become involved in that ceremony,” Bryant said.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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