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US priest challenges gay Bill in court 

24 June 2016

ENS

“Dignity denied”: the Revd Susan Hrostowski and Kathy Garner

“Dignity denied”: the Revd Susan Hrostowski and Kathy Garner

A PRIEST in the Episcopal Church of the US has filed a lawsuit against a Mississippi State Bill that allows businesses to refuse service to LGBT persons on religious grounds.

The Revd Dr Susan Hrostowski filed the lawsuit against the Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, and other state officials, claiming that her own religious beliefs have been harmed by the new HB1523 law, which comes into effect on 1 July.

The Bill says that it aims to provide protections for people, businesses, or organisations with “sincerely held religious belief or moral convictions”. The beliefs protected by the bill are that marriage should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and that a person’s “immutable biological sex” is determined by anatomy and genetics at birth.

The law would affect the issuing of marriage licences to same-sex couples, school bathroom policies, and adoptions.

Dr Hrostowski, who is married to Kathy Garner and has a son, told the Episcopal News Service that, “as a married lesbian, and a mother to a son with two moms, HB1523 also causes significant burdens on my family life. The state has gone out of its way to demean our family and deny us the dignity enjoyed by other families in our state.”

Dr Hrostowski was one woman of four lesbian couples who this year successfully challenged the state’s ban on gay adoption, and, in 2014, she challenged the state ban on gay marriage.

She said that she and her wife no longer felt safe to travel — a hotel could deny them a room — or even celebrate a meal together, since a restaurant could refuse to serve them.

The Bishop of Mississippi, the Rt Revd Brian Seage, has said that the new law “codifies discrimination” by allowing businesses to treat LGBT people differently. “For example, if an LGBT couple walks into an office to get a marriage license, they don’t have to offer them one, but they do have to provide someone else who can. To me, and to many others, that is flat-out discrimination, if an LGBT couple has to wait even ten seconds longer than someone else.”

But lawyers for the state said that the Bill “is constitutional as a reasonable accommodation for the protection of people holding moral and religious beliefs — even though plaintiffs find those beliefs offensive or repugnant.”

Dr Hrostowski’s lawsuit is one of several filed against the Bill. A federal judge began hearing the first case on Monday.

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