KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A Mississippi law that was supposed to protect people who refuse to accommodate LGBT individuals and same-sex marriage was supposed to take effect early this morning. It didn't happen. A federal judge ruled at the last minute the law would have allowed, quote, "state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity." NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Mississippi law is perhaps the most extreme of dozens of religious freedom laws passed by state legislatures. It was written specifically to support those who have one of three religious beliefs that marriage is exclusively the union of 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 cannot be altered. People who act on those beliefs by refusing to hire someone, for example, or provide accommodation would be shielded from punitive actions such as discrimination suits.
But federal Judge Carlton Reeves late Thursday night said that by singling out some beliefs as deserving special protection and ignoring others, the law violated the guarantee of religious neutrality. Law Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Illinois says that was a key problem with the Mississippi law.
ROBIN WILSON: When it looks like it's not even handed, you have dramatically increased the chances that your law is not going to survive.
GJELTEN: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant this morning said he was disappointed by the ruling and promised an aggressive appeal, although Mississippi's attorney general says he'd have to think long and hard about whether it would be worthwhile. It could be risky.
Judge Reeves said that by allowing discrimination against LGBT individuals, the Mississippi law violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Those individuals are not now recognized under federal law as a protected class. Should the law reach the Supreme Court and the justices consider that question, a major precedent could be established. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.