The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to a 2016 federal appeals court decision to allow Mississippi business owners and state employees to refuse service to LGBT individuals on the basis of "religious" or "moral" beliefs.
The state law was passed in response to the Supreme Court's decision to permit gay marriage nationwide. The law came into effect on Oct. 10, 2017, NBC News reports.
While the law does not prevent same-sex couples from marrying, it enables Mississippi residents to legally restrict LGBT couples' access to their services without fear of reprisal.
The law allows people to refuse service based on three beliefs: that marriage should be between one man and one woman, that sexual relations should only occur in heterosexual marriages, and that a person's gender is determined by their biological sex assigned at birth.
Opponents argue that the law could have wide-ranging effects, including some which may extend the reach of same-sex marriage. For example, unwed women may be legally denied birth control and doctors may refuse sex-reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for transgender individuals, reports NPR.
Efforts to fight the law were unsuccessful in lower courts because the plaintiffs could not prove that LGBT people would be harmed by it.
NPR reports that two cases that had been dismissed in appeals court -- Barber v. Bryant and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant -- were denied by the Supreme Court on Jan. 8.
Despite the legal setback, LGBT advocates remain determined to fight the law.
"We had challenged it before it went into effect, before people were hurt and turned away and left without all the access to health care and government services that everyone else has," said Beth Littrell, a lawyer for LGBT advocacy law firm Lambda Legal.
Meanwhile, proponents of the law consider the Supreme Court's decision a win.
"Good laws like Mississippi’s protect freedom and harm no one," said senior attorney Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law group that helped draft the law and represented Republican Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in appeals court for free.
The governor, who strongly and openly supports the law, was also pleased at the outcome, Mississippi Today reports.
"As I have said from the beginning, this law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional," he wrote in a statement released on Jan. 8. "The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs."
The Supreme Court may revisit the issue once LGBT individuals who have been denied services start filing lawsuits, reports NBC News.