Zack Ford, Universities Rejecting LGBT Students Essential To Religious Liberty, New Coalition Claims, Think Progress

Since February, California lawmakers have been considering a bill that would protect LGBT college students from discrimination by religious universities. On Tuesday, a national coalition of anti-LGBT conservatives, led by one of the largest denominations in the country, issued a joint letter opposing that legislation on the grounds that it infringes on religious liberty.
Senate Bill 1146 is a response to the many religious universities that have sought exemptions to Title IX, the federal law that protects against discrimination on the basis of sex in education. In recent years, the Department of Education has increasingly suggested that Title IX protects transgender students, officially issuing guidance to that effect in May. Likewise, a federal judge in California ruled in December that the law also likely protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Title IX allows universities to obtain a waiver if they have religious beliefs about sex, and there has been a surge in requests — such that the organization Campus Pride now maintains a “Shame List” of the dozens of schools who want to discriminate against LGBT students.
California legislators can’t change federal law, but they can still regulate universities under state law, which is what SB 1146 aims to do. In its current version, it would require three things of religious institutions:
First, if a California university takes a Title IX exemption, it would have to publicly disclose to students, faculty, and staff its basis for doing so, including in marketing materials to prospective students and orientation programs for incoming students.
Secondly, the universities would also have to submit that information to the state’s Student Aid Commission, which will maintain a public list of those institutions and the reasons they took those exemptions.
Lastly, the law simply states that those institutions are not exempt from California’s state nondiscrimination law, which requires that any institution that receives state funding provide services equally to all people, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill includes carveouts for sex-segregated housing, single-sex institutions, and ministerial training programs, but otherwise requires any school receiving state funding to provide LGBT students with equal access to that education.
In short, SB 1146 would simply tell California universities that if they want to discriminate against LGBT students, they can, but they can’t be secretive about it and they should not expect to receive state funding — including state loans and grants that help students pay tuition there — if they do.
On Tuesday, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a letter opposing SB 1146. It claims that the bill would unfairly punish the “low-income students” and “racial minorities” who depend on state grant programs by not allowing them to attend those religious universities. The bill threatens not only religious liberty, its signatories claim, but “the protection of American society and American democracy.”
The letter’s signers include a few non-Christians, but they otherwise largely consist of Baptist leaders, Christian college presidents, and a who’s who of prominent anti-LGBT conservatives, including:
Rick Warren (Saddleback Church)
Robert George (the Princeton University professor who helped found the National Organization for Marriage, among other anti-LGBT activities)
Jim Daly (Focus on the Family)
Alan Sears (Alliance Defending Freedom)
Ryan T. Anderson (The Heritage Foundation)
Erick Erickson (The Resurgent)
Matthew Franck (The Witherspoon Institute)
David French (National Review)
Jonathan Keller (California Family Council)
Ed Whelan (Ethics and Public Policy Center)
The list also includes three officials from Biola University, which has already been leading the charge against SB 1146. In fact, the evangelical institution operates its own “Oppose SB 1146” campaign, arguing that the bill would make schools like Biola “vulnerable to anti-discrimination lawsuits and unprecedented government policing.” In the campaign’s FAQs, Biola rejects the claim that they are motivated by discrimination, instead claiming that “faith-based institutions are fighting to preserve sacred teachings and practices that have been part of higher education settings for centuries.”
One school notably absent from the letter, however, is Pepperdine University, which is based in Malibu and affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Pepperdine has a storied reputation for being an unwelcoming place for LGBT students; in fact, it was a suit accusing Pepperdine of anti-gay discrimination that led to the preliminary finding recognizing that discrimination as a violation of Title IX. The school has had a Title IX exemption since 1985, but earlier this year — when dozens of other schools were newly filing for exemptions — Pepperdine actually withdrew from that exemption, making it perhaps the first university ever to do so. School officials recently explained that they believe the exemption no longer aligns with the institution’s values, but did not provide any further specifics behind the decision.
Pepperdine seems to be a clear exception to the rule. The other institutions argue that they must be able to continue discriminating against LGBT students, because “the future of a free America requires the full participation of religion in public life.”

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tors to stand up for victims from religious orgs and families'>Good step but still waiting for Senators to stand up for victims from religious orgs and families

tors-to-stand-up-for-victims-from-religious-orgs-and-families/8-5-2016-usa-gymnastics-letter/” rel=”attachment wp-att-8271″>8 5 2016 USA Gymnastics Letter

JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND, Tolerance, Religious Freedom, and the 2016 Election, National Catholic Register

When Khizr Khan delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia that attacked Donald Trump’s plan to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the country, the Pakistani American noted that his own son, a U.S. Marine, had died protecting the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Khan — a Muslim and a lawyer, whose son, Humayun Khan, posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his bravery — lashed out at Trump.

“Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” said Khan. “In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’”

Trump swiftly pushed back against Khan’s broadside, and soon political leaders from both parties had weighed in, criticizing the GOP candidate for his harsh treatment of a grieving father.
“His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that rebuked Trump for his treatment of Khan’s parents, and reflected the GOP leadership’s efforts to clarify the party’s commitment to religious freedom, even as news headlines target Trump’s comments.

In December, when Trump floated his plan to block Muslims from entering the country, Ryan jumped in to make a distinction between the candidate’s stance, and the party’s position.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle; it is a founding principle of this country,” said Ryan.

“What was proposed … is not what this party stands for and more importantly it’s not what this country stands for.”

Indeed, the 2016 Republican Party Platform’s extensive language on First Amendment Rights, approved this summer, celebrated the “Foresight of Our Founders to Protect Religious Freedom.”

“The first provision of the First Amendment concerns freedom of religion. That guarantee reflected Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which declared that no one should ‘suffer on account of his religious opinion or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion,’” read the platform, which chronicled troubling details of new threats to free exercise rights.

But media coverage of each party’s platform and convention themes hasn’t drilled into the policy details on this issue. Thus, voters are left with the optics of a presidential candidate challenging the credibility of Gold Star parents.

At the same time, little attention has been given to another striking development: the Democrats’ push to reframe and restrict religious freedom as a threat to newly established sexual rights and protections.

The Democrats’ record on this issue warrants a long-overdue discussion about the meaning and the future of religious freedom, in a shifting political, cultural and judicial landscape.

Democrats’ ‘Progressive Vision of Religious Freedom’

Such an analysis should include the Democratic Party Platform’s new formulation of the first freedom that raises questions about the priorities of a future Clinton administration.

“We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate,” reads the platform’s only reference to religious freedom, located in a section of the document that deals with “LGBT rights.”

Bradley Lewis, an associate professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America, described the 2016 Democratic Party Platform’s language on religious freedom as “worrisome.”

“A ‘progressive version’ of religious freedom is something other than religious freedom,” Lewis told the Register.

“It is a particular interpretation of religious freedom that conditions or qualifies religious freedom on whatever counts as ‘progressive’ according to whoever gets to decide.

“This is not what our Constitution guarantees.”

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, has already expressed alarm about another, related problem with the platform’s language.

“A commitment to religious liberty in the context of abortion, which was included in the 2012 platform, has been removed,” noted Day, in a July 25 column for the Los Angeles Times opinion page she co-authored with Charles Camosy, a professor at Fordham University and a member of Democrats for Life’s board of directors.

The 2016 platform’s stance on religious freedom reflects an evolving approach to the first freedom by liberal elites.

This new formulation provides context for the Obama administration’s refusal to broadly exempt religious employers who opposed the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, and for the split decision by an ideologically divided U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge to the mandate, which requires most employers to provide cost-free contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and surgical sterilization.

Likewise, the shift in perspective helps explain why partisan activists have aggressively attacked state religious freedom restoration acts, which could afford conscience protections for Christian wedding vendors, as “a license to discriminate.”

“This administration firmly believes that conscience has to be balanced against other competing goods,” Teresa Collett, a faculty member at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, told the Register.

“When we are dealing with sexual morality, or what Helen Alvare calls ‘sexualityism,’ it has very little weight.

“That means a pharmacist has to fill the prescription for the abortion pill, and the Little Sisters of the Poor have to ensure coverage of contraception for their employees,” said Collett, referring to two recent religious-liberty cases.

The Obama administration’s controversial record on this issue prompted the U.S. bishops to green light legal challenges to the HHS mandate. And after Trump dominated the pool of GOP presidential hopefuls, social conservatives secured his pledge to nominate Supreme Court justices who respected the rights of pro-life Americans.

The Issue of Muslim Immigration

Yet Trump’s proposals for restricting the migration of Muslims have deflected public attention away from the direction of the Supreme Court or the Democrats’ pivot on religious freedom. Meanwhile, GOP and Christian leaders have been engaged in damage control, and tried to present a consistent message on religious liberty and tolerance.

“A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Coalition, after Trump first outlined his plans in December.

“We must have security and we must have order. But we must not trade soul freedom for an illusion of winning.”

Asked to comment on both campaigns’ treatment of religious liberty, Douglas Laycock, an authority on religious freedom at the University of Virginia School of Law, argued that “both sides are making versions of the Puritan mistake. They want religious liberty for the religions they sympathize with, and not for the ones they deeply disagree with.”

“This also explains the Democrats revoking their support for conscientious objectors to abortion, and their unwillingness to protect small wedding vendors with conscientious objections to same-sex weddings,” said Laycock.

“Their support for Muslim immigration is a little different,” he added. “Democrats sympathize with refugees and immigrants, and immigration has become a significant issue in the campaign.”

But as Laycock sees it, Trump’s proposals will make it tough for Republicans to engage voters concerned about religious freedom.

Trump’s plans are “so fundamentally at odds with any understanding of the American tradition of religious liberty that he has handed [Democrats] an issue, and they will use it.”

Indeed, Khan’s convention speech marked a concerted effort to present the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, as a force for tolerance and inclusion.

Clinton’s Record on Religious Freedom

In her acceptance speech, Clinton attacked Trump’s policies and comments as intolerant and dangerous.

“We will not ban a religion,” she vowed, in a reference to Trump’s proposals. “We will work with all Americans and our allies to fight terrorism.”

But she made no effort to reach out to Americans who did not share her views on abortion rights and marriage equality. And while she acknowledged the power of political rhetoric to divide or unify Americans, she made no attempt to rein in activists who have labeled opponents of same-sex “marriage” as “haters” and “bigots” and even blamed “the Christian right” for the terrorist attack on an Orlando nightclub in June.

Clinton has not specifically referenced the platform’s language on religious freedom, but her public record on abortion and “LGBT rights” suggests that it reflects her own views.

Last year, as the passage of Indiana’s state Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA) sparked a firestorm, Clinton tweeted: “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love.”

If Clinton embraces “a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate,” as her party’s 2016 platform stipulates, pro-life Americans will be justifiably worried.

CUA’s Lewis pointed to a number of problems with the platform language.

Inclusion of the phrase “misuse of religion to discriminate,” he noted, offers a “completely open-ended invitation to truncate religious freedom in the name of political ideology and to compel people to act against their consciences.”

As Lewis sees it, the platform introduces a “much more restrictive idea of religious freedom than that understood by the Supreme Court and seems to take the First Amendment hostage to political ideology.”

Catholic Teaching on Religious Freedom

However, Lewis also made clear that religious liberty is not absolute. Indeed, Catholic social doctrine teaches that religious freedom is “not unlimited.”

He noted that Dignitatis Humanae, the groundbreaking document issued by the Second Vatican Council, “recognizes public order and morality as possible reasons to limit religious freedom, which suggests that some types of conduct that are opposed to public order or substantively immoral are not immune from regulation simply because they are part of religious practice.”

That said, he concluded that “the language in the platform goes far beyond this and really seems to me to threaten religious freedom for reasons that are simply political.”

Looking ahead, pro-life activists and Christian leaders fear that a “progressive vision of religious freedom” could justify civil rights legislation that denies conscience protections for physicians, pharmacists, and educators who abide by Church teaching on abortion or gender identity issues.

This year, for example, the HHS Office of Civil Rights proposed new anti-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act that would require health-care providers to perform “gender reassignment surgery” if requested.

The U.S. bishops have also taken note of new threats to the conscience rights of pro-life physicians could soon be forced to participate in abortions or risk losing their licenses to practice medicine.

“The vast majority of medical personnel — 85% of OB-GYNs, specifically — do not want to be involved in abortion,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively, in a July 13 statement that celebrated the passage of the bipartisan Conscience Protection Act of 2016 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Balancing Religious Freedom and Other Interests

But even as religious freedom activists gird for more litigation on such matters, legal experts remind Americans that the U.S. Constitution, legal precedent, and a tradition of religious tolerance provide the foundation for judicial decisions that balance state and other interests with respect for conscience rights.

“Dating back to the founding, there is a long history of accommodation for conscientious objectors, even during times of peril to national security,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel to the Becket Fund, told the Register, in comments that described the outcome of key religious freedom cases, but did not address election-year campaign issues.

“We can accommodate religious believers without endangering the public interest,” said Baxter, as he noted Becket Fund clients of all faiths that successfully challenged federal, state and local laws.

The Becket Fund also represents the Eternal World Television Network in its legal challenge to the HHS mandate. The Register is a service of EWTN.

The public interest group has been involved in cases that prompted little controversy, such as a Muslim’s legal challenge to Arkansas regulations that barred prisoners from growing a beard.

However, Baxter emphasized that religious beliefs that touch on hot-button issues should also be respected.

He noted that when Hobby Lobby filed its legal challenge to the HHS mandate, the administration warned of a “parade of horribles,” including the denial of access to free contraception for Hobby Lobby employees.

But two years after the craft store chain won a landmark victory, the controversy is barely mentioned. And though Baxter admitted that a politically charged case poses a greater challenge for legal counsel, he still believes that solutions can be found that respect the legitimate concerns of all parties.

“Religious liberty is not a zero sum game,” he said. “In a pluralist society we can accommodate religious beliefs and still carry out other important functions.”

This is the message Americans need to hear in an election year that has generated a good deal of heat, but not much light on the full meaning of religious freedom and tolerance.


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topher Ingraham, The non-religious are now the country’s largest religious voting bloc, The Washington Post'>Christopher Ingraham, The non-religious are now the country’s largest religious voting bloc, The Washington Post

More American voters than ever say they are not religious, making the religiously unaffiliated the nation’s biggest voting bloc by faith for the first time in a presidential election year. This marks a dramatic shift from just eight years ago, when the non-religious were roundly outnumbered by Catholics, white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants.

These numbers come from a new Pew Research Center survey, which finds that “religious ‘nones,’ who have been growing rapidly as a share of the U.S. population, now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters and more than a quarter of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters.” That represents a 50 percent increase in the proportion of non-religious voters compared with eight years ago, when they made up just 14 percent of the overall electorate.

“In 2008, religious ‘nones’ were outnumbered or at parity with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics,” the survey’s lead researcher, Greg Smith, said in an interview. “Today, ‘nones’ outnumber both of those groups.”

The growth of the non-religious — about 54 percent of whom are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 23 percent at least leaning Republican — could provide a political counterweight to white evangelical Protestants, a historically powerful voting bloc for Republicans. In 2016, 35 percent of Republican voters identify as white evangelicals, while 28 percent of Democratic voters say they have no religion at all.

[Quiz: Can you name the religions in these maps?]

But while the religiously unaffiliated are making up a larger share of American voters, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that will translate into actual votes. Exit polls of people who actually cast votes — as opposed to preelection polls of registered voters — have traditionally shown that the unaffiliated underperform at the ballot box relative to their raw numbers.

For instance, in the 2012 election, the unaffiliated made up 18 percent of registered voters in preelection polls but only 12 percent of the people who actually voted, as measured in post-election exit polls. Some of this difference may be due to the different ways the two polls ask religious-affiliation questions, but Pew’s researchers say that the underperformance of the non-religious is a very real phenomenon.

“While the group is growing rapidly in the general public, its growth has been much less dramatic in the electorate,” Pew’s Smith said. “It could be the ‘nones’ are not connected, almost by definition, to religious institutions, which can play an important role in spurring turnout and interest in politics.”

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Smith also points out that the unaffiliated tend to be younger than the religious and that young people tend to vote less than older people.

Still, the Pew study finds other evidence that religion may be becoming a less potent force at the ballot box. In 2008, for instance, 72 percent of voters said it was important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. That number is down to 62 percent today.

tory Hinckley, Why the case against Mississippi’s religious objections law was different, The Christian Science Monitor'>Story Hinckley, Why the case against Mississippi’s religious objections law was different, The Christian Science Monitor

On Friday, a federal judge in Mississippi struck down a state law that would have permitted LGBT discrimination on religious grounds, one hour before it was set to go into effect.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523, or the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, in April in response to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling last summer in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.
Since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, numerous states have passed legislation designed to solidify protections for conservatives who object to the law on religious grounds. These laws have been met with staunch opposition from civil rights advocates who say they violate the constitutional rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. This case, however, approached the issue from a different angle.

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US District Judge Carlton Reeves’ ruling against HB 1523, which would have permitted businesses and government employees from denying services to same-sex couples on religious grounds, is especially noteworthy because it reiterates a clear distinction between religious freedoms and religion-based laws.

“The state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others,” Judge Reeves wrote in the 60-page ruling. The law “does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”

HB 1523, supported by fellow conservative Republicans and Christian groups such as the Family Research Council, would have upheld three beliefs: marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, sexual relations can only occur within this marriage, and that a person’s gender is decided at birth and can’t be changed.

Enshrining these beliefs in law would have granted religious organizations the right to lawfully deny gay or lesbian couples marriage licenses, jobs, counseling, foster care services, or adoption. Transgender individuals would have been subject to bathroom restrictions and dress codes as well as lawfully denied medical treatment related to gender transitioning.

“If three specific beliefs are ‘protected by this act,’ it follows that every other religious belief a citizen holds is not protected by the act,” added Judge Reeves. “HB 1523 favors Southern Baptist over Unitarian doctrine, Catholic over Episcopalian doctrine, and Orthodox Judaism over Reform Judaism doctrine, to list just a few examples.”

Supporters of HB 1523 say the law simply protects Mississippians who want to exercise their religious freedom.
“If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights,” Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who is of no relation to the judge, said in a statement. “I hope the state’s attorneys will quickly appeal this decision to the 5th Circuit to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of all Mississippians.”

However, Mississippi already has a traditional religious freedom act to protect individuals who feel like their beliefs are being hindered by law. Thus employees are still permitted to refuse service to LGBT customers on religious grounds.

But opponents of the law, such as Judge Reeves, say there is a difference between protecting religion and imposing religion.

“In physics, every action has its equal and opposite reaction. In politics, every action has its predictable overreaction,” writes Judge Reeves. “And now Obergefell has led to HB 1523. The next chapter of this back-and-forth has begun.”

tors, Community Leaders File Third Legal Challenge, Jackson Free Press'>Arielle Dreher, ‘1523 Demonizes People’: Pastors, Community Leaders File Third Legal Challenge, Jackson Free Press

Mississippi pastors, community leaders, activists and a Hattiesburg church have filed a federal lawsuit challenging House Bill 1523, the third legal challenge to the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”

#The plaintiffs have sued the governor, the attorney general, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the state registrar of vital records, asking the federal court to issue an injunction blocking the bill from becoming state law on July 1. Gov. Phil Bryant recently received a Religious Freedom Award for his actions.
#The lawsuit says that “with the passage and approval of that bill, the Legislature and the Governor breached the separation of church and state, and specifically endorsed certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations, and condemn transgender people.”

#Jackson-based lawyer Rob McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice will represent the plaintiffs. McDuff said the plaintiffs include people the Center for Justice knew were opposed to HB 1523, as well as others they found through word-of-mouth.

#Plaintiffs in the case include long-time civil-rights advocates Rims Barber and Carol Burnett and retired Millsaps Chaplain Don Fortenberry, who are ordained ministers; the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church in Hattiesburg, its pastor Brandiilyne Magnum-Dear and its director of worship, Susan Magnum; Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson; Susan Glisson, founding director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi; long-time therapist and activist Joan Bailey; artist and activist Katherine Day; and community activists Dorothy Triplett, Renick Taylor and Anthony Lane Boyette.

#The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Section 2 of HB 1523, which defines marriage as the “union between one man and one woman” and says “sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage” and that “male or female refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.”

#The lawsuit alleges that HB 1523 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it “endorses certain specific religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

#The ACLU also filed a lawsuit against the State Registrar for Vital Records, challenging House Bill 1523, focusing on its violation of Due Process and Equal Protection clauses when same-sex couples try to get a marriage license in the state of Mississippi. McDuff said he wanted to make the Establishment Clause argument a part of the discussion.

#”First of all, 1523 demonizes people, and second of all, it chooses certain religious beliefs over others,” he told the Jackson Free Press.

#The lawsuit also addresses the 2014 Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying “to the extent government accommodation is required for the religious beliefs that are endorsed and given special protection by Section 2 of H.B. 1523, those beliefs were already sufficiently protected by MS RFRA in a manner which did not specifically endorse and give special status and exclusive protection to certain particular religious beliefs.”

#”If there is any need to accommodate people’s religious beliefs in this arena, that can be dealt with under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which doesn’t single out specific religions or religious beliefs,” McDuff said.

#HB 1523 will become law on July 1, unless a U.S. district judge issues an injunction in either one of the lawsuits, or U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves reopens the Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant lawsuit, which legalized same-sex marriage in the state last year.

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