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ACLU sues Mississippi over 'religious rights' law

JACKSON, MS (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union and a gay couple are suing the state of Mississippi over a law to allow workers to cite their own religious objections to same-sex marriage as a reason to deny people services.

House Bill 1523 , passed by the Republican-majority Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Phil Bryant, is set to become law July 1.

Mississippi's law is among similar measures being passed around the country in response to last summer's Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Supporters say the Mississippi law will protect people's religious belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Opponents say it violates the equal-protection guarantee of the Constitution.

"We've had a long history in Mississippi of bigotry and discrimination, and House Bill 1523 brings that back to life," said Oliver Diaz, a former state Supreme Court justice who filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

Bryant issued a statement criticizing the lawsuit.

"The ACLU continues its mission of trying to use the federal court system to push its liberal agenda," Bryant said. "Instead of cherry-picking causes popular with the radical left, the ACLU should allocate its resources defending all civil liberties."

The men suing the state, Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, are both 26. They live in the eastern Mississippi city of Meridian and have been engaged since 2014. They said they hope to marry in Mississippi.

"Our grandparents experienced discrimination for being black, and my parents probably did as well," Alford said. "My parents were born in the '60s and grew up in the '70s and '80s, and so it's always been a part of our lives. We thought this movement was over, you know? We thought that we would be fine. We thought that we would be equal, and here we are today saying that we're not, and we want equality."

The couple and the ACLU are asking a federal judge to declare that House Bill 1523 violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment and to issue an injunction blocking the state from enforcing the law.

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