- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An attorney said he’s “not at all concerned” that a federal judge didn’t hand down rulings by the close of business Thursday in two challenges to a Mississippi law dealing with religious objections to gay marriage.

Rob McDuff filed one of two pending lawsuits that seek to block House Bill 1523 from becoming law on Friday. The law would allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

It also would protect merchants and others who refuse services by citing three specific beliefs: That marriage should only be between a man and a woman, that sex should take place only inside such a marriage and that a person’s gender is determined at birth and is unchangeable.

McDuff said federal judges sometimes file rulings after business hours, though it’s possible U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves would rule another day. McDuff said the timing of a filing is no indication of whether Reeves would block the law or let it stand.

“The judge could still issue a ruling tomorrow preventing it from having any further effect, and that would achieve the result we are seeking,” McDuff told The Associated Press on Thursday evening.

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

Opponents say it unconstitutionally establishes preferred religious beliefs and creates unequal treatment for gay people.

State attorneys say it provides reasonable accommodations for people who believe gay marriage is wrong.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi bill in April. It was one of several filed by state lawmakers around the country in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Four federal lawsuits by civil-liberties and gay-rights groups have sought to block the Mississippi bill from becoming law.

Reeves on June 20 declined to block the law in one of the suits, saying the plaintiffs - two gay men who plan to marry each other within the next three years - can’t prove they would face immediate harm.

In another of the lawsuits, Reeves extended his previous order that overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage by saying clerks who issue marriage licenses must provide equal treatment for all couples, gay or straight. The effect is that the state can’t enforce the portion of the religious-objections law dealing with clerks.

The two remaining lawsuits seek to strike down the entire law.

Roberta Kaplan, who filed the 2014 challenge to Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban and one of the remaining suits against the religious-objections law, said Reeves’ Monday ruling was an “appetizer,” and she expects his rulings in the remaining two cases to be more far-reaching.

Attorneys have said no matter what Reeves decides, the losing side is expected to appeal.


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

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