- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Monday over challenges to a Mississippi law that could restrict access to same-sex marriage.

House Bill 1523 will become law July 1 unless it is blocked by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

Four lawsuits say the measure is unconstitutional. They contend it denies equal protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They also say it favors some religious beliefs over others.

The law will provide protection for people with three religious beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sexual relations should only take place inside such a marriage and that a person’s “immutable biological sex” is determined by anatomy and genetics at birth.

It will allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Although it specifies that a clerk must make other arrangements for such a license to be issued, lawmakers didn’t say during debates what would happen if every employee in a clerk’s office in a particular county declined to issue licenses.

In addition to marriage licenses, the law could affect adoptions, business practices and school bathroom policies.

The latest lawsuit was filed Friday by Campaign for Southern Equality and an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Susan Hrostowski. It says House Bill 1523 “rather than respect that all men (and women) are created equal, declares that certain people - only those who hold particular state-defined religious beliefs - should have special rights and privileges. Even worse, it allows them to exercise those special rights and privileges in derogation of the fundamental equality and dignity of a politically unpopular minority group.”

Hrostowski and her wife also sued Mississippi in 2015 to challenge the state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples. They won the lawsuit this year, around the same time that Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523.

Mississippi was one of several states to consider religious-objections bills in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Other challenges to the Mississippi law:

- On May 9, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of a gay couple from Meridian.

- On May 10, Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples filed papers seeking to challenge the new law by asking Reeves to reopen their 2014 federal lawsuit in which he overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage. Reeves put the marriage ruling on hold while the state appealed, and the Supreme Court handed down its marriage ruling months later in an Ohio case.

- On June 3, the Mississippi Center for Justice filed suit for a diverse group of gay, straight and transgender people saying the religious-objections law violates the separation of church and state.

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

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