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US judge blocks state law allowing discrimination of same-sex couples

A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs in denying services to same-sex couples. The law had won praise from conservative religious groups.

A federal judge's ruling prevented a state law from going into effect Friday that would allow those with certain religious objections to

deny wedding services to same-sex couples and impose dress and bathroom restrictions

on transgender people.

US District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that the law was unconstitutional because "the state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others." He also wrote that it violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantee.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant - a Republican - had signed House Bill 1523 in April, winning praise from conservative Christian groups. The Family Research Council gave him a religious freedom award for signing the bill, and Bryant said the "secular, progressive world had decided they were going to pour their anger and their frustration" on him because of the bill.

The court ruling's conclusion called religious freedom "one of the building blocks of this great nation," and said that Bill 1523 "does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all Mississippi's citizens. It must be enjoined."

Conservative governor defended bill

USA Gouverneur von Mississippi Phil Bryant

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant had won praise from socially conservative religious groups for passing the law

Mississippi state attorneys argued that the law provides reasonable accommodations for people with deeply held religious beliefs that gay marriage is wrong.

But Roberta Kaplan, an attorney who filed one of the lawsuits challenging the law, said in a statement that Reeves had enforced the constitutional principle that the government cannot establish a religion.

"As a result, Mississippi will no longer be permitted to favor some 'religious beliefs' over others, and the civil rights of LGBT Mississippians will not be subordinated to the religious beliefs of only certain religious groups," said Kaplan, who represents Campaign for Southern Equality.

More than 100 bills were filed in more than 20 state legislatures across the nation in response to the US Supreme Court ruling nearly a year ago that

legalized same-sex marriage nationwide

, UCLA law professor Douglas NeJaime testified before the judge last week.

jar/msh (AP, Reuters)

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