WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to take up a legal battle over a Mississippi law that allows state employees and private businesses to deny services to LGBT people based on religious objections.
Signed into law in 2016 in response to the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling, it allows county clerks to avoid issuing marriage licenses to gay couples and protects businesses from lawsuits if they refuse to serve LGBT customers.
The law was immediately challenged. But lower courts, without ruling on the merits of the law, said those suing could not show that they would be harmed by it.
A new round of challenges is expected from residents who have been denied service, and the issue could come back to the Supreme Court's doorstep.
Sponsors of the law said they wanted to protect those who believe that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman and that a person's gender is determined at birth.
A conservative law firm that helped defend the law praised the Supreme Court for refusing to take up the challenge.
"Good laws like Mississippi's protect freedom and harm no one," said Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending Freedom.
He said the law's only purpose was guaranteeing "that Mississippians don't live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union."
But gay rights groups promised to continue their efforts to get the law struck down.
"We will keep fighting in Mississippi until we overturn this harmful law, and in any state where anti-gay legislators pass laws to roll back LGBT civil rights," said Beth Littrell of Lambda Legal. "Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's decision today leaves LGBT people in Mississippi in the crosshairs of hate and humiliation, delaying justice and equality."
The law took effect Oct. 10 after a series of initial court fights.